Times Obituary - Neville Keithley

PUBLISHED: 18:02 12 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:03 25 August 2010



On August 8 1963 Biggs was among a gang of raiders who robbed a Glasgow and London mail train of £2.6 million and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

On August 8 1963 Biggs was among a gang of raiders who robbed a Glasgow and London mail train of £2.6 million and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

He was freed last weekend on compassionate grounds, a day before his 80th birthday and just weeks after his Parole Board recommendation for release was blocked by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr Cummines (pictured right) added: "Okay, Ronnie Biggs has now been released to spend his last few days with his family. He has served his time and there was no reason to keep him inside.

"I'm sure the vast majority believe he should have been released. His cell can now be used for someone who needs to be locked up for the protection of the public. Ronnie Biggs is no longer that man and I would question he ever was. He is an old, dying person. We are talking about a severely disabled and dying man and it was simply vicious and barbaric to keep him inside. I can't get over the fact he was not a threat yet the government continued to keep him locked up. His family deserve dignity in his death but why did it take so long?"

Former convict, Mr Cummines said the case of Ronnie Biggs was a typical example of prisoners being used for 'political currency'.

Biggs became one of the UK's most wanted criminals when he escaped from Wandsworth Prison and went on the run for 36 years, living mainly in Brazil. In 2001 he returned to the UK and was immediately imprisoned.

For several weeks Biggs has been guarded at Norwich University Hospital where he is expected to die, having been crippled by a series of strokes a broken hip and suffering severe pneumonia.

Last Saturday he celebrated his release and birthday with his son, Michael, at his bedside. It was also the 46th anniversary of the robbery.

His controversial lawyer Italian Giovanni di Stefano has constantly applied to have Biggs released as his health dwindled.

Di Stefano, who represents some of the world's toughest criminals including cop killer and Swanley road rage murderer Kenny Noye also blasted Jack Straw who ignored the Parole Board and said the robber was 'wholly unrepentant.'

He said: "Mr Biggs has forever regretted his actions in participating in the so called 'great train robbery' and it was his recognition of such that was a factor in his voluntary return to the UK.

"He wanted to in his own words 'settle his debt with justice' and in our submission his 10 years in prison such debt should be now marked 'paid in full'."

Biggs began his legal bid for freedom in November 2001 on compassionate grounds based on poor health while serving time in Belmarsh.

He had been treated four times at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich in less than a six month period.

The application was denied along with several others but in July 2007 he was moved from Belmarsh to Norwich prison on 'compassionate grounds.'

Although not defending their crimes, Bobby Cummines said there are other high-profile criminals who will find it almost impossible to walk free.

He said: "There is no doubt Kenny Noye killed Stephen Cameron and he deserves to serve his time. Will he ever be released even when his tariff is served and the Parole Board deem him no further risk? Probably not.

"Charles Bronson, another, he has not even killed anyone. Will he spend the rest of his life in prison? You bet he will.

"In five years will the sickening killers of Baby P be released? Without a doubt, yes, and I know who most would rather keep behind bars.

"The system will never be fair, it will never be just when there are 'glamour criminals' who face dying in prison decades after their crime and predatory paedophiles and child killers serve 18 months to five years. It's a disgrace and all I see is a prison system that acts as a human warehouse, where politicians often seek institutional revenge."

Mr Cummines served 13 years of a 20 years sentence for crimes including bank robbery, gang warfare and a being a hitman.

He added: "I had the chance to turn my life around and now I help others do the same from the outside. I now offer something useful to society and stop re-offending. But I fear others who have changed in prison will be left there to rot and die."

Jack Straw refused Ronnie Biggs parole on July 1 but said his release on Friday was due to "different considerations".

He added: "The medical evidence clearly shows that Mr Biggs is very ill and that his condition has deteriorated recently, culminating in his re-admission to hospital. His condition is not expected to improve. It is for that reason that I am granting Mr Biggs compassionate release on medical grounds. I have therefore been satisfied that the relevant conditions have been met, which I was not in respect of the recommendation for parole."

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