July 8, 1965: Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escapes from prison

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs used an exercise session as cover to scale a 20-foot wall and spark a manhunt which would end with 31 years in exile in Brazil.

Ronnie Biggs, one of the gang who carried out the notorious Great Train Robbery in August 1963, escaped from Wandsworth Prison on this day in 1965, setting in motion a manhunt which would lead to his eventual enforced exile in Brazil.

Biggs, 35, escaped with three other inmates by scaling the 20-foot wall of the prison yard during afternoon exercise, after ladders of rope and tubular steel were thrown over the wall by accomplices.

[Read more: What was so great about the Great Train Robbery?]

Warders supervising the exercise session were hampered by the other prisoners in the yard, allowing the four men to lower themselves onto a red furniture van waiting below (pictured). They were then split into three cars to make their escape.

Police study the truck used in Ronnie Biggs' escape from Wandsworth Prison.

When police arrived on the scene they found prison overalls and a loaded shotgun in the abandoned van.  Later they discovered one of the cars used in the escape, a green Ford Zephyr, which had been left outside Wandsworth Common station.

Biggs had been captured a little over a month after the robbery and was tried with 12 other suspects. He was convicted in April 1964 of armed robbery and conspiracy to rob, and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment.

His fellow robber Charlie Wilson had escaped in August of that year when three men broke into Winson Green Prison in Birmingham.  Wilson would be recaptured in Canada in 1968, but the police had no such good fortune in apprehending Biggs.

Ronnie Biggs pictured in Rio de Janeiro in 1988.

He would travel to Paris to undertake plastic surgery and receive falsified identity papers, before spending three years in Australia and then fleeing to Brazil, where he remained until voluntarily returning to the UK in 2001.

[Read more: What happened to the Great Train Robbers?]

He then served eight years of his sentence before being released on compassionate grounds, having suffered a series of strokes.

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