LONDON Jan 3 "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs
arrived for his funeral on Friday in a hearse bearing a large
flower display in the shape of an obscene two-finger "V-sign", a
fitting emblem of his lifelong defiance of the British
Biggs, a small-time criminal who became a celebrity during a
life on the run after the notorious 1963 robbery, died last
month at the age of 84 in a London nursing home.
He had served just 15 months of a 30-year jail term when he
escaped in 1965, fleeing to Australia, then Brazil, from where
he flaunted his freedom, partying in exotic locations and giving
interviews to the British press.
But after 36 years on the run, Biggs returned to Britain in
2001, broke and in poor health, going back to jail until illness
prompted his release in 2009.
In his final year, Biggs appeared in public twice, frail and
wheelchair-bound, but unrepentant for his role in the heist in
which the gang stole 2.6 million pounds ($4.2 million) from a
Royal Mail train, equivalent to about 40 million today.
At the funeral of the robbery's mastermind Bruce Reynolds in
March last year, Biggs found the strength to stick two fingers
up at the cameras.
On Friday, a cortege of Hell's Angels bikers and a brass
band playing "When The Saints Go Marching In" led Biggs' coffin
into a north London crematorium, followed by his family and
various underworld figures, and watched by a scrum of media and
"Biggs was not a major criminal but he had a eye for
publicity. This is a circus, and everyone has fallen for it,"
said local resident David Rose, watching as the coffin draped in
the British and Brazilian flags passed by in heavy rain.
HERO OR VILLAIN?
The Great Train Robbery became one of the defining events of
1960s Britain, coinciding with the Profumo affair - a
sex-and-spies scandal that rocked the British establishment -
and the rise of the Beatles and other working-class heroes. It
spawned several films.
Biggs, the most famous member of the gang, was a latter-day
Robin Hood to some but an unrepentant villain to those who
pointed to the violence used on the train driver.
Jack Mills was hit over the head with a iron bar during the
robbery and died seven years later, with some people blaming the
injuries for his death.
A 67-year-old local resident who came to see what the media
fuss was about, but declined to give her name, said: "I am
ashamed I have come to watch a common criminal being buried."
Biggs, who was born in south London, always said he had
never regretted his role in the robbery as it had given him a
"little place in history".
His life, chronicled in a 2011 autobiography entitled "Odd
Man Out: The Last Straw", made ideal fodder for a film script.
After escaping from London's Wandsworth Prison in 1965 by
scaling a wall with a rope ladder, he used his share of the loot
for plastic surgery and passage to Australia.
He later fled to Brazil, via Panama and Venezuela, pursued
by his great adversary, London police detective Jack Slipper
("Slipper of the Yard"). The fact that he had a son with a
Brazilian woman eventually spared him extradition.
Tanned and sporting his white hair in a ponytail, he
regularly gave interviews to British newspapers. In 1978 he even
recorded a song, "No One is Innocent", with the British punk
band the Sex Pistols.
In 1981 he was abducted from Rio by former British commandos
who took him to the Caribbean on a yacht, hoping to sell him to
the highest bidder.
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by)