Letter that freed Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs goes up for sale

The letter that freed Ronnie Biggs: Note from Great Train Robber’s lawyers that successfully asked Parole Board to let him out of jail goes up for sale

  • Ronnie Biggs was one of 15 men who stole £2.6m from a Royal Mail train in 1963
  • He served 15 months in prison before escaping and living on the run for 36 years
  • Biggs returned UK prison in 2001 and was released in 2009 before death in 2013
  • Now a friend is selling dozens of items from his estate including personal photos of his life on the run and an original £1 note from the robbery in an evidence bag 

A letter from ‘Great Train Robber’ Ronnie Biggs’ legal team to his parole board asking for him to be freed from prison is up for sale.

The document known as ‘the letter that freed Ronnie Biggs’ as it was sent just days before he was released from prison is among dozens of items on offer from his estate.

There dozens of items a friend of Biggs is selling with East Bristol Auctions, with the collection tipped to fetch £5,000. 

Biggs was part of a 15-member gang which stole £2.6million – the equivalent of £55m today – during the early morning raid on a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in 1963.

The following year, nine of the 15 members including Biggs were jailed but Biggs only served 15 months before making his escape from Wandsworth prison.

He spent the next 36 years on the run, settling down in countries including France, Australia and Brazil.

A letter from ‘Great Train Robber’ the legal team of Ronnie Biggs (left) to his parole board asking for him to be freed from prison is up for sale as one of dozens of items from his estate

Pictured: Biggs, who died in 2013, used this Monopoly card while playing the board game with fellow robbers at their hideout as they laid low following the 1963 heist and has since signed it

Pictured: Ronnie Biggs played a minor role in the robbery, but his life as a fugitive after escaping from prison gained him notoriety as he spent 36 years of his life on the run

The Great Train Robbery saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train travelling between Glasgow and London on the West Coast Mainline.

It took place in the early hours of August 8 when the train was near Buckinghamshire and the haul would be the equivalent of £55 million today.

A gang of 15 men tampered with signals to bring the train to a halt before boarding and making off with the cash.

No one was killed but train driver Jack Mills was beaten over the head so severely he never fully recovered.

After the robbery, the gang hid at Leatherslade Farm. 

Nine of the gang were captured in the months following and were convicted at trial with most being handed 30-year prison sentences. 

He returned to the UK in 2001 and was immediately re-imprisoned to serve the rest of his 30-year sentence before being released in 2009. He died in 2013 at the age of 84.

Items up for sale from his estate include various signed photographs that Biggs made and printed himself to sell in order to fund his medical care.

The images, which poke fun at the robbery and feature explicit language, include one of himself stood at the point of the robbery wearing a policeman’s hat and waving a pint of beer.

Another standout item on offer is a Monopoly ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ which was used by Biggs while playing the board game with his fellow robbers at their farm hideout as they laid low following the 1963 heist. 

The collection features in East Bristol Auction’s ‘Military, History & Transport Auction’ on September 17 and is set to fetch over 10K.

Auctioneer Andrew Stowe said: ‘Ronnie Biggs became the biggest celebrity from the crime.

‘We have a lot of items from his personal estate.

‘One important item featured in the auction is the letter from Biggs’ legal team to his Parole Board asking him to be freed.

‘It’s dated just a few days before his release – it is the letter that freed Ronnie Biggs.’

Biggs died in 2013, following a lifetime of evading and escaping the British Justice System. 

After successfully executing the theft, the robbers hid out in a farmhouse and used the acquired banknotes to play a game of Monopoly.

It was this act that was to be their downfall, as when the police discovered the hideout they found the game covered in finger prints which eventually led to them being arrested and imprisoned. 

Another stand-out lot in the collection is a £1 bank note from the robbery which has fingerprint dust on it from the 1960s police investigation and was used as evidence to convict the robbers

A photo taken in 2010 shows Biggs posing at the scene of the Great Train Robbery whilst wearing a policeman’s hat and holding a pint of beer is due to go up for auction this month

Several pieces from the now famous set, used in the trial to convict the robbers, also feature in the auction.

Another stand-out lot in the collection is a £1 bank note from the robbery which is still in its original ‘Police Evidence’ bag.

It has fingerprint dust on it from the 1960s police investigation and was used to convict the robbers at trial.

There are previously unseen photos of Biggs living in exile in Australia and Rio de Janiero, as well as one taken in 2010 when he returned to the scene of the crime in Buckinghamshire.

Andrew added: ‘Perhaps the most interesting piece of the set that is for sale is the ‘Go To Jail’ card.

‘Its quite ironic! You can just imagine them sat around playing the game and joking about this card. A short while later – it was reality!’

Other items up for grabs are Biggs’ Fedora hat, his business card with his fingerprint on it and Christmas cards he received from the robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds and the actor Paul Freeman, who portrayed him in the 1988 film ‘Prisoner of Rio’.

Also being sold is the headlight rim of their getaway van, an Austen Loadster Truck, which was painted yellow to make it look like a military truck.

To carry out the raid, the men tampered with the lineside signals to bring the train to a halt at Bridego Railway Bridge in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire. 

The auction is set to take place on September 17 and the catalogue can be viewed on their website www.eastbristol.co.uk


 Bruce Reynolds

Gang-leader and mastermind Reynolds was nicknamed ‘Napoleon’ and after the Great Train Robbery he fled to Mexico on a false passport and was joined by his wife, Angela, and son, Nick.

Mastermind Bruce Reynolds

They later moved on to Canada but the cash from the robbery ran out and he came back to England.

Five years after the heist, in 1968, a broke Reynolds was captured in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

He was released on parole in 1978 and moved, alone and penniless, into a tiny flat off London’s Edgware Road.

In the 1980s he was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines.

After his second release, Reynolds went on to work briefly as a consultant on a film about the robbery, Buster, and published the Autobiography of a Thief in 1995. His son Nick said his father died in his sleep in the early hours of February 28 2013.

Ronnie Biggs

Ronald Arthur ‘Ronnie’ Biggs played a minor role in the robbery, but his life as a fugitive after escaping from prison gained him notoriety. 

He was given a 30-year sentence in 1964, but he escaped after 15 months by fleeing over the walls of London’s Wandsworth prison in April 1965.

After having plastic surgery, he lived as a fugitive for 36 years in first Australia then Brazil, where he fathered a son Michael.

His health deteriorated in 2001 and he returned to the UK voluntarily where he was sent back to prison.

He was finally freed in 2009 on ‘compassionate grounds’ by then Justice Secretary Jack Straw who said he was not expected to recover. He died in 2013.

Ronald Arthur ‘Ronnie’ Biggs played a minor role in the robbery, but his life as a fugitive after escaping from prison gained him notoriety

Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards

An ex-boxer, club owner and small-time crook who fled to Mexico after the heist but gave himself up in 1966.

Edwards is widely believed to be the man who wielded the cosh used to hit train driver Jack Mills over the head.

Mills’ family say he never recovered, and he died seven years later.

Edwards served nine years in jail and then became a familiar figure selling flowers outside Waterloo station in London.

He was the subject of the 1988 film Buster, in which he was played by Phil Collins.Edwards was found hanged in a garage in 1994 at the age of 62. Two wreaths in the shape of trains accompanied his funeral cortège.

Charlie Wilson

Wilson was the gang’s ‘treasurer’ who gave each of the robbers their cut of the haul. He was captured quickly and during his trial at Aylesbury Crown Court in 1964 earned the nickname ‘the silent man’ as he refused to say anything.

He was jailed for 30 years but escaped after just four months.

He was captured again in Canada after four years on the run and served 10 more years in jail.

He was the final train robber to emerge from prison in 1978.

Wilson moved to Marbella, Spain, where he was shot and killed by a hitman on a bicycle in 1990.

Roy James

Police seize bags of cash following the heist

A silversmith and racing driver, James dreamed of investing his share of the loot in new car technology.

He was nicknamed ‘Weasel’ and was the chief getaway driver.

James left a tell-tale fingerprint at the gang’s farm hideout after the heist and was caught following a chase over rooftops in London.

Jailed for 30 years, he served 12 and later sold silver from a market stall before moving to Spain.

James was jailed again for six years in 1993 after shooting his wife’s father and hitting her with a pistol.

He died at the age of 62, soon after getting out of prison.

Brian Field

A crooked solicitor who the gang used for the conveyancing when they bought the farm hideout used after the heist.

Field was arrested and sentenced to 25 years, which was later reduced to five.

He died in a motorway crash in 1979.

Bill Boal

An engineer who was arrested with Roger Cordrey in possession of £141,000.Reynolds said he had never heard of Boal. He claimed Boal was not involved in the robbery and was ‘an innocent man’.

Boal was charged with receiving stolen goods and jailed for 24 years, which was reduced to 14 on appeal.

He died of cancer in jail in 1970.

Tommy Wisbey

A bookie and self-confessed ‘heavy’ whose job in the heist was to frighten the train staff.

Wisbey was sentenced to 30 years and released in 1976.

He was jailed for another 10 years in 1989 for cocaine dealing and later ran a flower stall. 

Tommy died in 2017 after suffering a stroke in his London care home, aged 86.

Bobby Welch

A nightclub owner who was sentenced to 30 years in jail and was released in 1976.

He was later left crippled after an operation on his leg went wrong.

After jail he became a car dealer and gambler in London. He attended Bruce Reynolds’ funeral earlier this year.

He is the last remaining member of the gang.

Gordon Goody

He was served 12 years of a 30 year sentence and was released in 1975. He is believed to have been the mastermind behind the infamous train heist.

In 1975, he moved to Spain to run a beach-side bar called Kon Tiki in Mojácar, Almeria. He died in 2016 aged 86 after suffering from a heart attack.

This picture taken on August 8 1963 at Cheddington station shows the Glasgow-London Royal Mail train after it was robbed

James Hussey

A decorator known as ‘Big Jim’ who was sentenced to 30 years and released in 1975.

Hussey later worked on a market stall and then opened a Soho restaurant.

He notched up a conviction for assault in 1981 and in 1989 was jailed for seven years for a drug smuggling conspiracy with fellow train robber Wisbey.

He died in November 2012, aged 79, from cancer.

Roger Cordrey

Part of the South Coast Raiders gang, Cordrey was a florist.

He was arrested in Bournemouth after having the bad luck to rent a lock-up from a policeman’s widow.

He was jailed for 20 years, which was reduced to 14 on appeal.

When he was released in 1971 he went back to the flower business and moved to the West Country. He has since died.

Jimmy White

A former Paratrooper described as ‘quartermaster’ for the robbery.

White was on the run for three years before being caught in Kent and sentenced to 18 years.

He was released in 1975 and went to live in Sussex. He has since died.

Leonard Field

A former merchant seaman, Field was sentenced to 25 years, which was later reduced to five.

He was released from jail in 1967 and went to live in north London. Believed to be dead.

John Wheater

A solicitor who was sentenced to three years for conspiring to pervert the course of justice. He was released in 1966 and went to live in Surrey. Believed to be dead.

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