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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 12:11 GMT
Echoes of the Great Train Robbery
By James Clarke
BBC News, England

Carriages from the mail train targeted in the Great Train Robbery
The Great Train Robbery was the UK's biggest heist at the time
The search at a farm in Kent by police investigating the 53m Securitas raid has echoes of the hunt for the gang behind the Great Train Robbery.

On 8 August 1963, 2.6m in used bank notes was stolen from the overnight Glasgow to London mail train.

The 15 robbers had stopped the train by switching a signal from green to red near Cheddington in Buckinghamshire.

Five days later a tip-off led police to their hideaway at Leatherslade Farm, about 20 miles away.

The gang had been holed up in the farm while they shared out the contents of the 120 bags of money - which would amount to about 40m at today's values.

'Sordid crime of violence'

Like the Securitas raid, it was the UK's biggest ever robbery at the time.

Police found a host of evidence at the farm, which proved to be vital in capturing the robbers.

Leatherslade Farm, the hideout used by the Great Train Robbery gang
The train robbers left behind vital evidence at Leatherslade Farm

They had played monopoly there using some of the 1, 5 and 10 notes they had stolen from the mail train - and the monopoly set was among the places the gang members left giveaway fingerprints.

It was only nine days after the discovery of the farm hideaway that the first of the robbers, Charlie Wilson, was arrested and charged.

The trial of 12 gang members began at Buckinghamshire Assizes in Aylesbury in January 1964.

Only one pleaded guilty - Roger Cordrey, who gave back his 80,000 share of the loot - but in April of that year all 12 men were convicted.

In passing sentence, Mr Justice Edmund Davies focused on the violence against train driver Jack Mills, who was coshed over the head when the gang stormed the train and never worked again.

The judge said: "Let us clear out of the way any romantic notions of daredevilry, this is nothing less than a sordid crime of violence inspired by vast greed."

Police at the farm in Staplehurst in Kent
Securitas raid police descended on a farm in Kent on Tuesday

Eleven of the men - including the man who was to become the robbery's most famous name, Ronnie Biggs - were given sentences of between 20 and 30 years.

The twelfth man, solicitor John Wheater, was jailed for three years for obtaining the farm for use as a hideout, though it was accepted he did not know about the robbery until it had happened.

The three remaining gang members were all jailed by 1969, including Buster Edwards, who had gone on the run to Mexico immediately after the crime but gave himself up three years later, and the robbery's mastermind Bruce Reynolds.

But two of the men escaped from jail after less than two years - Wilson, who was recaptured in Canada in 1968, and Biggs, who evaded capture until he returned to the UK in ill health in 2001, with more than three decades on the run having earned him celebrity status.

The Monopoly set from the farm is now on display at the Thames Valley Police Museum, along with other exhibits relating to the robbery.

Whether any evidence found at the farm near Staplehurst searched by Kent Police this week goes down in history in a similar way remains to be seen.


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