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Armed robbery - crime v time

The decision to refuse parole to Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has met with some criticism. How have other armed robbers been dealt with by the law?

Ronnie Biggs, 79, has been refused parole for his part in a 1963 train robbery that netted £2.6m, after the Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Biggs was unrepentant. Biggs's original 30-year jail term was part of a combined sentence of more than 300 years handed down to the gang he was part of. The Magazine has mapped several high-profile heists and the total prison terms imposed on those involved.

Click on the crimes below to see how each case was dealt with.

YearRobberyValue of haulSentence
1963Great Train Robbery£41m307 years
1983Security Express£15m 82 years
1983Brinks Mat£66m89 years
1987Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre£84m22 years
1990City Bonds£497m6.5 years
2004Northern Bank£30m0 years
2006Securitas£57m70 years

Great Train Robbery On 8 August 1963 armed robbers stole £2.6m (£41m in 2008 prices) in cash from the Glasgow-to-London Royal Mail train. The gang of 15 stopped the train in rural Buckinghamshire with a fake stop signal. Detectives quickly found the robbers' base. Clues there soon led them to most of the gang who were arrested and ultimately sentenced to a total of 307 years. One of them, Ronnie Biggs, later escaped from Jail and fled to Brazil. He returned to the UK in 2001 and is still in prison.

Security Express On Easter Monday 1983 a gang broke into the Security Express depot in Shoreditch, east London, and escaped with £6m (£15m). The robbery was masterminded by John Knight, the brother of Ronnie Knight, the former husband of actress Barbara Windsor. John Knight was later jailed for 22 years. Ronnie Knight, who was living in Spain, later admitted handling some of the stolen money and was jailed in 1994.

Brinks Mat Six armed men gained entry to the Brinks Mat high security warehouse at Heathrow Airport on 26 November 1983 by posing as security guards. They doused a guard with petrol and threatened to set him alight unless he opened the vault. He couldn't remember the code, but the gang discovered boxes full of gold ingots and took those instead. The gang's haul was worth £26m (£66m). Gang leaders Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson were jailed for 25 years. Kenneth Noye, who was jailed for 14 years for handling some of the stolen gold, is now serving life for a murder committed in 1996.

Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre At least £40m (£84m)of goods were stolen from 120 safe deposit boxes at a warehouse opposite Harrods on a Sunday in July 1987. The robbery was an inside job planned with the help of the managing director of the centre who was heavily in debt. Italian Valerio Viccei received a 22-year sentence for masterminding the theft. In 1992 he was allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in an Italian jail, but in 2000, while on day release, he was gunned down by police.

City Bonds On 2 May 1990 a financial messenger was robbed at knifepoint in a quiet City of London side street. He had been carrying Treasury bonds worth £292m (£497m). Detectives believe the mugging was carried out by Patrick Thomas, a small-time crook from south London who was shot dead before he could be charged. The police later recovered all but two of the bonds after a tip-off. One man, Keith Cheeseman, received a six-and-a-half-year sentence for laundering the stolen bonds.

Northern Bank On 20 December 2004 a gang stole £26.4m (£30m) from the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast - the largest amount of cash ever taken in a robbery in the UK. Indeed, so large the bank had to withdraw its notes and replace them with new ones with different logos and colours. It also had political ramifications as it was blamed on the IRA, who were supposed to have ended all criminal activity. Most of the stolen cash has yet to be recovered.

Securitas A gang raided the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent on 22 February 2006 making off with £53m (£57m) in cash. The gang gained access to the depot by kidnapping the depot manager and his family and forcing him to let them in. All but one of the gang was later arrested and sentenced to long prison terms after the make-up artist, who provided them with their disguises, turned Queen's evidence.

How did we compile the data for this graphic?

Figures for the sums of money stolen and jail terms were gathered by studying contemporaneous and other news reports of the various crimes and subsequent trials of those involved in these robberies. The prison terms cited represent the combined length of sentences handed down to those directly and indirectly involved in the crimes. The figures cited for the value of the various hauls are those used in reports at the time. They have been adjusted for inflation using the Bank of England inflation calculator which uses UK price index data.

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