"Great Train Robber" is refused parole

LONDON Thu Jul 2, 2009 12:37pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs lost his long-running bid for early jail release on Wednesday after the British government said he should not be allowed out on parole because he was "wholly unrepentant."

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he had rejected the Parole Board's recommendation to allow Biggs, 79, to be released.

"Mr. Biggs is wholly unrepentant and the Parole Board found his propensity to breach trust a very significant factor," Straw said in a statement.

Along with 11 other gang members, Biggs robbed a Glasgow-to-London mail train in 1963 and stole 2.6 million pounds -- about 30 million pounds ($49 million) in today's money. The crime became known as "The Great Train Robbery."

He was caught and sentenced the following year but escaped from prison after just 15 months.

He used his share of the loot to pay for plastic surgery and papers for a passage to Australia where he returned to his old job of carpenter and decorator. He later fled to Brazil via Panama and Venezuela.

His playboy lifestyle and cocky defiance of the British authorities made him a criminal legend, spawning several films and making heroes out of the villains in the eyes of millions around the world.

He surrendered to police in 2001 after 36 years on the run and is now serving the rest of his sentence at Norwich prison in eastern England.

Biggs has served 10 years of a 30-year sentence for one of Britain's most infamous crimes.

His son Michael, 34, said he and his family were devastated by Straw's decision.

"Even though he was on an embankment during the robbery, he has always expressed how sorry he was about it all and extended his sympathy to the train driver and the families concerned," he said.

He added his father was suffering from a fractured hip, spine and pelvis, is recovering from pneumonia and unable to walk, talk, drink or eat properly.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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