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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
A lifetime on the run
Ronnie Biggs in Rio
Biggs became a criminal icon after his escape from jail
After 35 years on the run, Ronnie Biggs is reportedly negotiating with British Police, asking for a British passport and promising to give himself up at Heathrow Airport.

But the Great Train Robber's surrender would end an extraordinary period in which - since his escape from prison - he has managed to stay out of the reach of the long arm of the law.

It is more than 37 years since Biggs and his gang stole 2.6m from the Glasgow to London mail train, but despite the passage of time, he has seldom been out of the news.

Biggs's escape from Wandsworth prison just 15-months after he began a 30-year prison sentence, boosted his profile from a bit part player in the robbery, to a celebrity fugitive.

And his success at evading recapture for so long has established him as a criminal icon.

I am a sick man. My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter

Ronnie Biggs
Biggs initially fled to Spain, with his wife Charmaine and two sons, Farley and Chris.

He had plastic surgery and then moved on to Australia, but had to escape to Brazil, which has no extradition treaty with the UK, when Scotland Yard tracked down his hideaway.

Train carriages
Heist turned criminals into celebrities

In 1974 Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper, who spent his career trying to track Biggs down, managed to arrest him in Rio.

But once again Biggs was able to evade British justice.

This time he successfully argued against extradition because he had fathered a son - by a Brazilian girlfriend - who was dependent on him.

Evading the law

Jack Slipper, who wrote a book about his attempts to put Biggs behind bars, admitted he had a sneaking admiration for him.

"I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I liked him after reading the book," he said.

"But I admit he's a likeable character - the sort of person whose company I'd enjoy if we met, say on holiday."

Biggs cheated arrest again in 1977 when he went on-board a British frigate - docked in Rio - for a drinks party.

But four years later he was kidnapped by a gang of adventurers who smuggled him to Barbados by boat.

Yet again, however, he pulled off a Houdini-like escape and used extradition laws to get himself returned to Brazil.

In 1997 the British government tried and failed again to get Biggs extradited.

But despite a life-time on the run Biggs has never been one to keep a low profile.

Tired of running

In 1978 he recorded No One is Innocent for punk rockers The Sex Pistols.

And when finances ran short he raised money by selling T-shirts of himself to tourists and locals. He even published an autobiography, Odd Man Out.

Even the film world got a piece of Biggs, when the Great Train Robbery was immortalised in the movie Buster and starring Phil Collins.

Last year Biggs celebrated his 70th birthday with a slap-up party in Brazil as a rogues' gallery of infamous friends came to Brazil to enjoy his big day.

Guests at Biggs's poolside barbeque included members of the eight-strong gang which robbed the train, including Bruce Reynolds, 67, who masterminded the 2.6m heist.

But Biggs' health is no longer good. In March 1998 he suffered a stroke - he is now reported to have had three in total.

In an interview with the Sun newspaper he says he wants to come home before he dies.

"I am a sick man. My last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter.

"I hope I live long enough to do that."

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See also:

01 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Great Train Robbery game plan
13 Nov 97 | UK
Biggs 'elated and relieved'
17 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Ronnie Biggs is back
09 Aug 99 | UK
Great Train Robber turns 70
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