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The Great Train Robbery is the name given to a £2.6 million train robbery (the equivalent of £41 million today) committed on Thursday 8 August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. The bulk of the stolen money was not recovered. Three robbers were never found, two convicted robbers escaped. One convicted was most likely never involved, and died in prison. Though there were no firearms involved, the standard judgment was 30 years.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2011)|
The robbery was planned by several parties with no overall mastermind. Although the robbery operation itself was planned and executed by Bruce Reynolds, the target and the information came from an unknown individual dubbed the "Ulsterman". The key field organisers were Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards and Charlie Wilson, with Brian Field being the key link between the robbers and the informant.
At 6:50 PM on Wednesday 7 August 1963 the travelling post office (TPO) "Up Special" train set off from Glasgow Central Station, Scotland en route to Euston Station in London. The train was hauled by an English Electric Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel-electric locomotive numbered at the time as D326 (later renumbered 40 126). The train consisted of 12 carriages and carried 72 Post Office staff who sorted mail during the journey.
Mail was loaded onto the train at Glasgow and also during station stops en route, as well as from line-side collection points where local post office staff would hang mail sacks on elevated track-side hooks which were caught by nets deployed by the on-board staff. Sorted mail on the train could also be dropped off at the same time. This process of exchange allowed mail to be distributed locally without delaying the train with unnecessary station stops. One of the carriages involved in the robbery is preserved at the Severn Valley Railway.
The second carriage behind the engine was known as the HVP (High Value Packages) coach, which carried large quantities of money, as well as registered mail for sorting. Usually the value of the shipment was in the region of £300,000, but because there had been a Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland, the total on the day of the robbery was £2.6 million (equivalent to about £43 million in 2012 RPI terms).
Just after 3 AM the driver, Jack Mills from Crewe, stopped the train on West Coast Main Line at a red signal light in Ledburn, at a place known as 'Sears Crossing', between Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire and Cheddington in Buckinghamshire. However, unknown to him, the signal equipment had been tampered with by the robbers. They had covered the green signal light and connected a six-volt Ever Ready battery to power the red signal light. The locomotive's second crew-member, known as the secondman, was 26-year-old David Whitby (also from Crewe). He climbed down from the cab to call the signalman from a railway track-side telephone, only to find the cables had been cut. Returning to the train, he was thrown down the embankment of the railway track by one of the robbers.
The robbers now encountered a problem. They had to move the train to a suitable location in order to load their ex-army dropside truck with the stolen money and had decided to do so at bridge No.127 (known as 'Bridego Bridge'), approximately half a mile (800m) further along the track. One of the robbers had spent months befriending railway staff and familiarising himself with the layout and operation, but it was decided that it would be better to use an experienced train driver to move the train from the signals to the bridge after uncoupling the carriages containing the rest of the sorters and the ordinary mail. However, the person they selected (later referred to as "Stan Agate") was unable to operate the English Electric Class 40 mainline diesel-electric locomotive, because he was only experienced with shunting (switching) type locomotives on the Southern Region. It was quickly decided that the original locomotive driver, Jack Mills, should move the train to the stopping point near the bridge, which was indicated by a white sheet stretched between poles on the track. Mills was initially reluctant to move the train so one of the gang struck him on the head. Since Ronnie Biggs' only task was to supervise "Stan Agate's" participation in the robbery, when it became obvious that Stan was not needed to drive the train, he and Ronnie were banished to the waiting truck to help load the mail bags.
The train was duly stopped at Bridego bridge and the robbers' "assault force" attacked the High Value Packages (HVP) carriage. Frank Dewhurst was in charge of the three other postal workers (Leslie Penn, Joseph Ware and John O'Connor) in the HVP carriage. Thomas Kett, Assistant Inspector in charge of the train from Carlisle to London Euston was also in the carriage. Both Dewhurst and Kett were hit with coshes when they made a vain attempt to prevent the robbers' storming of the carriage. Once the robbers had entered the carriage, the staff could put up no effective resistance and there was not a single police officer or security guard on board to assist them. The postal workers were quickly detained in a corner of the carriage and made to lie face down on the floor. Mills and Whitby were then brought into the carriage, handcuffed together and put down beside the sorters.
The robbers removed all but 7 of the 128 sacks from the HVP carriage, which they transferred in about 25 minutes to the waiting truck by forming a human chain. The gang departed some 30 minutes after the robbery had begun in their Austin Loadstar truck and, in an effort to mislead any potential witnesses, they used two Land Rover vehicles, both of which had the registration plates BMG 757A.
The gang then headed along back roads listening for police broadcasts on a VHF radio and arrived at Leatherslade Farm, a run-down farm 27 miles (43 km) from the crime scene, situated between Oakley and Brill in Buckinghamshire ( ). The farm had been bought two months earlier for use as their hideout.
At the farm they counted the proceeds of the robbery and divided it into 17 full shares and several 'drinks' (smaller sums of money intended for associates of the gang). The precise amounts of the split differ according to the source, but the full shares came to approximately £150,000 each.
It quickly became apparent that the police believed that the robbers had stayed in the area rather than scattered with their haul, so the gang's plan for leaving the farm was brought forward to Friday instead of Sunday. The vehicles they had driven to the farm could no longer be used because they had been seen by the train staff. Brian Field came to the farm on Thursday to pick up his share of the loot and to take Roy James to London to find an extra vehicle. Bruce Reynolds and John Daly picked up cars, one for Jimmy White and the other for Reynolds, Daly, Biggs and the replacement train driver. Field, his wife Karin and his associate "Mark" brought the vans and drove the remainder of the gang to 'Kabri' to recover.
Field had arranged with "Mark" to carry out a comprehensive clean-up of the farm after the robbers had left, even though the robbers had already spent much time wiping the place down to be free of prints. According to Buster Edwards, he 'nicked' £10,000 in ten-shilling notes to help pay "Mark's" drink. However, on Monday, when Charlie Wilson rang Brian Field to check whether the farm had been cleaned, he did not believe Field's assurances. He called a meeting with Edwards, Reynolds, Daly and James and they agreed that they needed to be sure. They called Field to a meeting on Tuesday, where he was forced to admit that he could not be sure that the farm had been cleaned. Wilson would have killed him there and then but was restrained by the others. By the time they were ready to go back to the farm, however, they learned that police had found the hide-out.
£2,631,684 was stolen from the train. The bulk of the haul was in £1 notes and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note, which was half its size). There were also ten-shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money. Because time was limited by professional standard, 8 out of 126 bags were not stolen. Statistically, this could be £131,000 or 4.7% left behind.
The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the trainmen caught a slow train to Cheddington, which he reached at 4:30 a.m. to raise the alarm.
The gang of train robbers consisted of 17 full members who were to receive an equal share, including 15 people who were at the actual robbery and two key informants.
The gang of 15 men from London was led by Bruce Reynolds, and assisted by Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson and Ronald "Buster" Edwards. Their key electronics expert was Roger Cordrey, who was already an accomplished train robber. The two informants who brought the idea to the robbers' attention were solicitor's clerk Brian Field and a man known as the "Ulsterman", who has never been identified or caught. The best known member of the gang, Ronnie Biggs, had only a minor role, which was to recruit the replacement train driver, a man known variously as "Old Pete" or "Stan Agate".
The unofficial leader of the gang and the undoubted brains behind the strategy to rob the train, Bruce Richard Reynolds, was born on 7 September 1931 at Charing Cross Hospital, the Strand, London, to Thomas Richard and Dorothy Margaret (née Keen). His mother died in 1935, and he had trouble living with his dad and stepmother, so he often stayed with one or other of his grandmothers. He was jailed for three years on several counts of breaking and entering, and upon his release quickly started re-offending. He soon joined a gang with future best friend Harry Booth and future brother-in-law John Daly. Later on, he did some work with Jimmy White and met Buster Edwards at Charlie Richardson's club. Richardson in turn introduced him to Gordon Goody.
Douglas Gordon Goody is often described as the gang's deputy leader and he was clearly a key organiser. Of Irish descent, he was born in Putney, London in March 1930. In the early 1960s he joined Buster Edwards' gang and helped rob various easy targets.
The most dangerous of the Great Train Robbers was 'the Silent Man' Charlie Wilson. He was born on 30 June 1932 to Bill and Mabel Wilson in Battersea, London. Possessing a heavy build and handsome appearance, Wilson was, from an early age, an intimidating presence with his piercing blue eyes. His friends from childhood were Jimmy Hussey, Tommy Wisbey, Bruce Reynolds and Gordon Goody. Later on, he met Ronald 'Buster' Edwards and the young driving enthusiasts Mickey Ball and Roy James, who had taken up car theft. From 1948 to 1950 he was called up for national service, and in 1955 he married Patricia (Pat) Osbourne, with whom he had three children. He turned to crime early in life and spurned his father's legitimate but low-income wage. While he did have legitimate work in his in-laws' grocer's shop, he also was a thief and his criminal proceeds went into buying shares in various gambling enterprises. He went to jail for short spells for numerous offences. In 1960, he began to work with Bruce Reynolds and planned to get into the criminal big league.
Ronald Christopher Edwards was born on 27 January 1932 at Lambeth, London, the son of a barman. After leaving school, he worked in a sausage factory, where he began his criminal career by stealing meat to sell on the post-war black market. During his national service in the RAF he was detained for stealing cigarettes. When he returned to South London, he ran a drinking club and became a professional criminal. He married June Rose in 1952. They had a daughter, Nicky.
Brian Arthur Field was born on 15 December 1934 and was immediately put up for adoption. He served two years in the Royal Army Service Corps, seeing service during the Korean War. Although soldiers in the Service Corps were considered combat personnel, they were primarily associated with transport and logistics. When he was discharged from the military, it was with "a very good character".
Field later became a solicitor's managing clerk for John Wheater & Co. Although he was only 28 at the time of the robbery, he was already apparently more prosperous than his boss, John Wheater. Field drove a new Jaguar and had a house, "Kabri" (an amalgam of Karin and Brian Field), with his wife at the Bridle Path, Whitchurch Hill, Oxfordshire, while his boss owned a battered Ford and lived in a run-down neighbourhood. Part of the reason for Field's prosperity was that he was not averse to giving Goody and Edwards information about what his clients had in their country houses, making them prime targets for the thieves. On one occasion he described the contents and layout of a house near Weybridge where wife Karin had once been a nanny.
Prior to the robbery Field had represented Buster Edwards and Gordon Goody. He had arranged Edwards's defence when he had been caught with a stolen car and had met Goody at a nightclub in Soho. Field was called upon to assist in Goody's defence in the aftermath of the "Airport Job", which was a robbery carried out on 27 November 1962 at a branch of Barclays Bank at London Airport. This was the big practice robbery that the South West Gang had done before the Great Train Robbery. Field was successful in arranging bail for Goody and Charlie Wilson.
|Great Train Robbers|
|Name||Nickname||Age at day of robbery||Born/Death||Role in the Gang||Association||At the scene||Loot split||Captured||Prison time|
|1||Bruce Richard Reynolds||31||7 September 1931||Leader of the gang||Leader of the South West Gang||Yes||1/16||9 November 1968||–1979|
|2||Douglas Goody||Gordon||34||March 1930–||Deputy and organiser||Member of the South West Gang||Yes||1/16||10 October 1963||–December 1975|
|3||Charles Frederick Wilson||Charlie|
|31||1932–Marbella, 23 April 1990, (shot)||"Treasurer" and organiser||Member of the South West Gang||Yes||1/16||22 August 1963||Escaped August 1964–1967) –1979|
|4||Ronald Christopher Edwards||Buster||32||27 January 1931–28 November 1994 (possibly suicide)||Organiser||Member of the South West Gang||Yes||1/16||Voluntary, September 1966||9 years (1966–1975)|
|5||Brian Arthur Field||29||15 December 1934 – May 1979 (car crash)||Key informant and organiser of the mock purchase of Leatherslade Farm, the gang's hideout||Solicitor's clerk and organised the defence of Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards in previous court cases||No||1/16?||15 September 1963||–1967|
|6||?||Ulsterman||Key informant and organiser||Contact with Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards arranged through another man who contacted Brian Field||No||1/16||Never|
|7||Roy James||28||21 August 1997||Getaway driver and carriage uncoupler||Yes||1/16||10 December 1963||–August 1975|
|8||John Daly||Paddy||32||Train stopper and getaway driver||Brother in law of Reynolds and associate of South West Gang||Yes||1/16||3 December 1963, Released||0 (No evidence)|
|9||Bill Jennings||Flossy||Carriage uncoupler||Associate of South West Gang||Yes||1/16|
|10||James Edward White||Jimmy||Quartermaster and carriage uncoupler||Generally solitary thief who knew Reynolds||Yes||1/16||April 1966|
|11||?||Alf Thomas||Muscle||Associate of Jimmy White||Yes||1/16||Never|
|12||Roger John Cordrey||42||Train stopper and electronics expert||South Coast Raiders||Yes||1/16||–1971|
|13||Bob Welch||34||Organising and muscle||South Coast Raiders||Yes||1/16||25 October 1963|
|14||Thomas Wisbey||Tommy||34||Muscle||South Coast Raiders||Yes||1/16||11 September 1963|
|15||James Hussey||Big Jim||34||1933 - November 12, 2012 (hospice)||Muscle||South Coast Raiders||Yes||1/16||Sentenced: 30 years (Served 1964-1975)|
|16||?||Frank Munroe||Muscle||South Coast Raiders||Yes||1/16||7 September 1963|
|17||Ronald Biggs||34, birthday||8 August 1929||Contact for replacement train driver||Associate of Reynolds||Yes||1/16||4 September 1963||Escaped 8 June 1965–(voluntary) 7 May 2001 –7 Aug 2009; (3,875 days; 10 year 10 months)|
|18||?||Mark, Dustman||Clean up the farm (failed)||Associate of Field||No||"Drinking fee"||Never|
|19||"Pops"||Stan Agate, Pete||Replacement train driver (failed)||Via Ronald Biggs||Yes||Never|
|20||Leonard Denis Field||31||Purchase Leatherslade Farm (hideout)||No relation of Brian Field||No||25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)|
|21||John Denby Wheater||41||Employer of Leonard Field||No||Sentenced: 3 years|
|22||William Gerald Boal||50||–1970 (died in prison)||Not involved||No||Nothing||Sentenced: 24 years|
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2011)|
At 5 a.m., Chief Superintendent Malcolm Fewtrell (1909–2005), head of the Buckinghamshire Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), arrived at the abandoned postal carriages, the crime scene, where he supervised evidence-gathering. He then went to Cheddington railway station where statements were taken from the driver and postal workers. A member of the gang had made the mistake of telling the postal staff not to move for half an hour and this suggested to the police that their hide-out could not be more than 35 miles (56 km) away. It appeared, from interviews with the witnesses, that about 15 hooded men dressed in blue boiler suits had been involved, but little more could be gleaned.
By lunchtime of the following day, it became obvious to Fewtrell that extra resources were needed to cope with the scale of the investigation and the Buckinghamshire Chief Constable referred the case to Scotland Yard. George Hatherill, Commander of the C Department and Detective Chief Superintendent Earnest (Ernie) Millen, Head of the Flying Squad were initially in charge of the London side of the investigation. They sent Detective Superintendent Gerald McArthur and Detective Sergeant John Pritchard to assist the Buckinghamshire Police.
The police then undertook a major search, fanning out from the crime scene after having failed to find any forensic evidence there. A watch was put on the seaports. The Postmaster General Reginald Bevins offered a £10,000 reward to "the first person giving information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the persons responsible for the robbery".
Following a tip-off from a herdsman who used a field adjacent to Leatherslade Farm, a police sergeant and constable called there five days after the robbery. The farm was deserted but they found the truck used by the robbers, which had been hastily painted yellow, as well as the Land Rovers. They also found a large quantity of food, bedding, sleeping bags, Post Office sacks, registered mail packages, bank note wrappers and a Monopoly board game. It was determined that although the farm had been cleaned for fingerprints, some finger and palm prints (presumably of the robbers) had been overlooked, including those on a ketchup bottle and on the Monopoly set (which had been used after the robbery for a game, but with real money).
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2011)|
The London side of the investigation then continued under Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, who replaced Ernest (Ernie) Millen as head of the Flying Squad shortly after Millen was promoted to Deputy Commander under George Hatherill. On Monday 12 August 1963, Butler was appointed to head the police investigation of the London connection and quickly formed a six-man Train Robbery Squad.
With Leatherslade Farm finally found on 13 August 1963, the day after Tommy Butler was appointed to head the London investigation, the police were confident of a breakthrough. Unfortunately, the decision to publish photos of the wanted suspects had already been made by Hatherill and Millen, despite strong protests from Tommy Butler and Frank Williams. This resulted in most of the robbers going to ground.
Tommy Butler was a shrewd choice to take over the Flying Squad and in particular the Train Robbery Squad. He became arguably the most renowned head of the Flying Squad in its history. He was known variously as "Mr Flying Squad", as "One Day Tommy" for the speed with which he apprehended criminals and as the "Grey Fox" for his shrewdness. He was Scotland Yard's most formidable thief taker and, as an unmarried man who still lived with his mother, he had a fanatical dedication to the job. Butler worked long hours and expected all members of the squad to do the same. The squad later had to work out rotations whereby one member would go home to rest as otherwise they were getting only three hours of sleep per night and had no time to eat healthily or see their families. When the squad tried to get him to ease the working conditions, Butler was enraged and threatened to send them back to their normal duties. Butler was said to be very secretive, with Jack Slipper claiming in his book Slipper of the Yard (1981) that "he wouldn't even tell his own left hand what the right one was doing". This meant that Train Robbery Squad members were often dispatched on specific errands with no knowledge of how their tasks fitted into the overall investigation.
The six-man Train Robbery Squad consisted of Detective Inspector Frank Williams, Detective Sergeant Steve Moore, Detective Sergeant Jack Slipper, Detective Sergeant Jim Nevill, Detective Sergeant Lou Van Dyck and Detective Constable Tommy Thorburn. The senior officer, Frank Williams, was a quiet man. His speciality was dealing with informants and he had the best working knowledge of the South London criminal fraternity in the force. One of the squad, Jack Slipper, would later become Head of the Flying Squad and would still be involved in the case many years later.
The first gang member to be caught was Roger Cordrey. He was with his friend, William Boal, who was helping him lie low in return for the payment of old debts. They were living in a rented, fully furnished flat above a florist's shop in Wimborne Road, Moordown, Bournemouth. The Bournemouth police were tipped off by police widow Ethel Clark, when Boal and Cordrey paid rent for a garage (in Tweedale Road off Castle Lane West), three months in advance, all in used ten-shilling notes.
In the end William Boal, who was apparently not involved, would receive 24 years and died in prison.
Other arrests followed. Eight of the gang members and several associates were caught. The other arrests were made by Sgt. Stan Davis and Probationary Constable Gordon 'Charlie' Case.
On Friday 16 August 1963, two people who had decided to take a morning stroll in Dorking Woods discovered a briefcase, a holdall and a camel-skin bag, all containing money. They called police, who also discovered another briefcase full of money in the woods. In total, a sum of £100,900 was found. They also found a camel-skin bag with a receipt inside, from the Cafe Pension Restaurant, Sonnenbichel, Hindelang, Prov. Allgäu. It was made out in favour of a Herr and Frau Field. The Surrey police delivered the money and the receipt to Fewtrell and McArthur in Aylesbury, who knew by then that Brian Field was a clerk at James and Wheater who had acted in the purchase of Leatherslade Farm. They quickly confirmed through Interpol that Brian and Karin Field had stayed at the Pension Sonnebichel in February that year. In addition, they knew that Field had acted for Gordon Goody and other criminals.
Several weeks later, the police went to "Kabri" to interview Field, who calmly (for someone whose relatives had dumped a large part at least of the loot) provided a cover story that implicated Lennie Field as the purchaser of the farm and his boss John Wheater as the conveyancer. He admitted to visiting the farm on one occasion with Lennie Field, but said he assumed it was an investment of his brother (Alexander Field), whom Brian Field had unsuccessfully defended in a recent court case. Field, not knowing the police had found a receipt, readily confirmed that he and his wife had been to Germany on a holiday and gave them the details of the place at which they had stayed. On 15 September 1963 Brian Field was arrested and his boss John Wheater was arrested two days later. Lennie Field had already been arrested on 14 September.
Jack Slipper was involved in the capture of Roy James, Ronald Biggs, Jimmy Hussey and John Daly.
The trial of the robbers began at Aylesbury Assizes, Buckinghamshire, on 20 January 1964. Because it would be necessary to accommodate a large number of lawyers and journalists, the existing court was deemed too small and so the offices of Aylesbury Rural District Council were specially converted for the event. The defendants were brought to the court each day from Aylesbury Prison in a compartmentalised van, out of view of the large crowd of spectators. Mr Justice Edmund Davis presided over the trial, which lasted 51 days and included 613 exhibits and 240 witnesses. The jury retired to the Grange Youth Centre in Aylesbury to consider their verdict.
On 11 February 1964, there was a sensation when John Daly was found to have no case to answer. His counsel, Mr Raeburn QC, claimed that the evidence against his client was limited to his fingerprints being on the Monopoly set found at Leatherslade Farm and the fact that he went underground after the robbery. Raeburn went on to say that Daly had played the Monopoly game with his brother-in-law Bruce Reynolds earlier in 1963, and that he had gone underground only because he was associated with people publicly sought by the police. This was not proof of involvement in a conspiracy. The judge agreed, and the jury were directed to acquit him. Frank Williams was shocked when this occurred, because due to Tommy Butler's refusal to share information, he had no knowledge of the fact that Daly's prints were only on the Monopoly set. If Williams had known this, he could have asked Daly questions about the Monopoly set and robbed him of his very effective alibi. Daly was clever in avoiding having a photo taken when he was arrested until he could shave his beard. This meant that there was no photo to show the lengths he had gone to, in order to change his appearance. No action was taken against Butler for his mistake in not ensuring the case against Daly was more thorough.
On 15 April 1964 the proceedings ended with the judge describing the robbery as "a crime of sordid violence inspired by vast greed" and passing sentences of 30 years' imprisonment on seven of the robbers.
The 11 men sentenced all felt aggrieved at the sentences handed down, particularly Bill Boal (who died in prison) and Lennie Field, who were later found innocent of the charges against them. The other men (aside from Wheater) resented what they considered to be the excessive length of the sentences, which were longer than those given to many murderers or armed robbers at the time. At that period, there was no parole system in place and prisoners served the full term of the sentence. Train robbers who were sentenced later, and by different judges, received shorter terms.
|John Thomas DALY||32||antiques dealer||N/A - No Case To Answer|
|Ronald Arthur BIGGS||34||carpenter||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Douglas Gordon GOODY||34||hairdresser||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Charles Frederick WILSON||31||market trader||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Thomas William WISBEY||34||bookmaker||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Robert WELCH||34||club proprietor||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|James HUSSEY||34||painter||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Roy John JAMES||28||racing motorist and silversmith||30 years (25 years for Conspiracy to rob and 30 years for Armed Robbery)|
|Roger John CORDREY||42||florist||20 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and various receiving stolen goods charges)|
|Brian Arthur FIELD||29||solicitor's clerk||25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)|
|Leonard Denis FIELD||31||merchant seaman||25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)|
|John Denby WHEATER||41||solicitor||3 years|
|William Gerald BOAL||50||engineer||24 years|
On 13 July 1964, the appeals by Lennie Field and Brian Field (no relation) against the charges of Conspiracy to Rob were allowed. This meant that their sentences were effectively reduced to five years only. On 14 July 1964, the appeals by Roger Cordrey and Bill Boal were allowed, with the convictions for Conspiracy to Rob quashed, leaving only the receiving charges. Justice Fenton Atkinson concluded that a miscarriage of justice would result if Boal's charges were upheld, given that his age, physique and temperament made him an unlikely train robber. Luckily for him, as the oldest robber, Cordrey was also deemed to be innocent of the conspiracy because his prints had not been found at Leatherslade Farm. Brian Field was only reluctantly acquitted of the robbery. Justice Atkinson stated that he would not be surprised if Field were not only part of the conspiracy, but also one of the robbers. The charges against the other men were all upheld. In the end Lennie Field and Bill Boal got some measure of justice, but Boal died in prison in 1970 after a long illness.
Immediately after the trial, two of the criminals, Charlie Wilson and Ronnie Biggs, escaped from captivity.
On 12 August 1964, Wilson escaped from Winson Green Prison in Birmingham in under three minutes, the escape being considered unprecedented in that a three-man team had broken into the prison to extricate him. His escape team was never caught and the leader, nicknamed "Frenchy", had disappeared from the London criminal scene by the late 1960s. Two weeks after his escape Wilson was in Paris for plastic surgery.
11 months after Wilson's escape, in July 1965, Ronnie Biggs escaped from Wandsworth Prison, only 15 months into his sentence. A furniture van was parked alongside the prison walls and a ladder was dropped over the 30-foot-high wall into the prison during outside exercise time, allowing four prisoners to escape, including Biggs. The escape was planned by recently released prisoner Paul Seaborne, with the assistance of two other ex-convicts, Ronnie Leslie and Ronnie Black, with support from Biggs' wife, Charmian. The plot saw two other prisoners interfere with the warders, and allow Biggs and friend Eric Flower to escape. Seaborne was later caught by Butler and sentenced to four-and-a-half years and Ronnie Leslie received three years for being the getaway driver. The two other prisoners who took advantage of the Biggs escape were captured after three months. Biggs and Flower paid a significant sum of money to be smuggled to Paris for plastic surgery. Biggs said he had to escape because of the length of the sentence and what he alleged to be the severity of the prison conditions.
The escape of Wilson and Biggs meant that five of the robbers were now on the run, with Tommy Butler in hot pursuit.
With the other robbers on the run and fled out of the country, only Jimmy White was left in the United Kingdom.
Jimmy White was a renowned locksmith/thief and had already been on the run for ten years before the robbery. He was said to have "a remarkable ability to be invisible, to merge with his surroundings and become the ultimate Mr Nobody." He was a wartime paratrooper and a veteran of Arnhem. According to Piers Paul Read in his 1978 book The Train Robbers, Jimmy White was "a solitary thief, not known to work with either firm, he should have had a good chance of remaining undetected altogether, yet was known to be one of the Train Robbers almost at once - first by other criminals and then by the police". He was unfortunate in that Brian Field's relatives had dumped luggage containing £100,000 only a mile from a site where White had bought a caravan and hidden £30,000 in the panelling. In addition, a group of men claiming to be from the Flying Squad broke into his flat and took a brief case containing £8,500. Throughout his three years on the run with wife Sheree and baby son Stephen, he was taken advantage of or let down by friends and associates. On 10 April 1966 a new friend recognised him from photos in a newspaper and informed police. They arrested him at Littlestone while he was at home. He only had £8,000 to hand back to them. The rest was long gone. He was tried in June 1966 at Leicester Assizes and Justice Nield sentenced him to only 18 years' jail (considerably less than the original terms of 30 years).
Charlie Wilson took up residence outside Montreal, Canada on Rigaud Mountain in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood where the large, secluded properties are surrounded by trees. Wilson lived under the name Ronald Alloway, a name borrowed from a Fulham shopkeeper. He joined an exclusive golf club and participated in the activities of the local community. It was only when he invited his brother-in-law over from the UK for Christmas that Scotland Yard was able to track him down and recapture him. They waited three months before making their move, in the hope that Wilson would lead them to Reynolds, the last suspect still to be apprehended. Wilson was arrested on 25 January 1968 by Tommy Butler. Many in Rigaud petitioned that his wife and three daughters be allowed to stay in the Montreal area.
Bruce Reynolds was the last of the robbers to be caught.
Bruce Reynolds was released from prison on 6 June 1978 after serving 10 years. Reynolds, then aged 47, was helped by Gordon Goody to get back on his feet, before Goody departed for Spain.
By October 1978, day-release ended and he had to report to a parole officer. Frank Monroe, one of the three robbers who was never caught, temporarily gave Reynolds a job, but did not want to attract undue attention by employing him for too long. Reynolds later got back together with his wife Angela and son Nicholas. He was arrested in 1983 for drug-related offences (Reynolds denies having any involvement). He was released again in March 1985 and dedicated himself to helping his wife recover from a mental breakdown. In 2001, he and his son Nicholas travelled with reporters from The Sun newspaper to take Ronnie Biggs back to Britain. In 2010 he wrote the afterword for Signal Red, a novel based on the Great Train Robbery and he regularly comments on the robbery.
He was released from prison on 23 December 1975, aged 46 years old and went to live with his ill mother in her small cottage in Putney. Unlike the other robbers, Goody was exceptionally lucky in that the man he left in charge of his affairs was loyal and successful so he was able to live a relatively well-off life. He later moved to Mojacar, Spain, where he bought property and a bar and settled down, believing it safer to be out of the United Kingdom. He was at one point accused of cannabis smuggling but ultimately cleared. He continues to reside in Mojacar.
He was released from prison in 1978 (after serving about one-third of his sentence) and was found shot dead at his villa in Marbella, Spain on 24 April 1990. His murder was thought to be related to suspected cheating in drug-dealing activity. He is buried in Streatham Cemetery.
Edwards was released from prison in 1975 and became a flower seller outside Waterloo Station. His story was dramatised in the 1988 film Buster, with Phil Collins in the title role. Edwards committed suicide by hanging himself in a garage in November 1994. His family continued to run the flower stall after his death.
After being sentenced on 16 April 1964, Field served four years of his five-year sentence. He was released in 1967.
While Brian Field was in prison, his wife Karin divorced him and married a German journalist. Karin wrote an article for the German magazine Stern. She confirmed that she took Roy James to Thames railway station so he could go to London and that she led a convoy of two vans back to "Kabri", where the gang were joined by wives and girlfriends for a big party to celebrate the crime.
When Bruce Reynolds returned to Great Britain in 1968, he tried to contact Field as this was the only way he could get in touch with the "Ulsterman". It seems that Field was ambushed upon his release from prison by a recently released convict, "Scotch Jack" Buggy, who presumably roughed up or even tortured Field with a view to extorting some of the loot from the robbery. Subsequently Field went to ground and Buggy was killed shortly after. Reynolds gave up trying to find Field.
Field changed his name to Brian Carlton in order to disappear. He died, aged 44 years, in a car crash on a motorway in May 1979, a year after the last of the robbers had completed his sentence.
Ronnie Biggs received a 30-year sentence following the robbery and served 15 months initially.
Biggs fled to Paris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery. In 1970, he quietly moved to Adelaide, Australia, where he worked as a builder and lived a relatively normal life. He was tipped off by persons unknown and moved to Melbourne, later escaping to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after police discovered his Melbourne address. Biggs could not be extradited because there was no reciprocal extradition treaty between Britain and Brazil, a condition for the Brazilian process of extradition. Additionally, he became father to a Brazilian son, which afforded him legal immunity (which a daughter would not have conferred). As a result, he lived openly in Rio for many years, safe from the British authorities. In 1981, Biggs's Brazilian son became a member of a successful band Turma do Balão Mágico, bringing a new source of income to his father. In a short time, however, the band faded into obscurity and dissolved, leaving father and son relatively short of funds again.
In May 2001, aged 71 and having suffered three strokes, Biggs voluntarily returned to England. His son, Michael Biggs, said in a press release that, contrary to some press reports, Biggs had not returned to the UK simply to receive free health care. According to Michael, health care was available in Brazil and he had many friends and supporters who would certainly have contributed to any such expenses. Biggs's stated desire was to "walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter". Biggs was aware that he would be arrested and jailed. After detention and a short court hearing he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. He served another 8 years of his sentence.
On 2 July 2009, Ronnie Biggs was denied parole by British Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who considered Biggs to be still "wholly unrepentant." Biggs himself has stated that the thirty-year term was "out of order" for the crime committed, and that is why he planned an escape.
On 6 August 2009, Ronnie Biggs was granted release from prison on "compassionate grounds" due to a severe case of pneumonia, after serving only part of the sentence imposed at trial. Ronnie Biggs's son has said publicly that his father expressed remorse for the robbery, but not for his life on the run. By the time he was released he had served more jail time than any of the robbers, despite his relatively minor role.
Roy James (born August 1935), went back to motor racing following his release on 15 August 1975. However, he crashed several cars and his chances of becoming a driver quickly faded. After the failure of his Formula One career, he returned to his trade as a silversmith. He produced trophies for the Formula One World Championship due to his acquaintance with Bernie Ecclestone. In 1982, he married a younger woman, but the marriage soon broke down. By 1983, James and Charlie Wilson had become involved in an attempt to import gold without paying excise duty. Roy was acquitted in January 1984 for his part in the swindle. In 1993, he shot and wounded his father in-law and pistol-whipped and partially strangled his ex-wife, after they had returned their kids for a day's outing. He was sentenced to six years in jail.
In 1996, James underwent triple-bypass surgery and was subsequently released from prison in 1997, only to die almost immediately afterwards on 21 August after another heart attack. He was the fifth member of the gang to die, despite being the youngest.
The South Coast Raiders did not fare too well in general. Bob Welch (born March 1929) was released on 14 June 1976. He was the last of those convicted in Aylesbury to be released. Welsh moved back in with his wife June and his son. He threatened the man left in charge of his share of the theft in order to retrieve the remainder. A leg injury sustained in prison saw him undergo several operations and he was left semi-crippled as a result. Frank Monroe, who was never caught, worked as a film stunt man for a while before starting a paper and scrap metal recycling business. Jim Hussey was released on 17 November 1975 and married girlfriend Gill (whom he had met just before the robbery). His share of the loot had been entrusted to a friend of Frank Monroe and had been squandered despite Monroe periodically checking on its keeper. Roger Cordrey (born May 1922) was the first of the robbers released, but his share of the theft had almost entirely been recovered by the police. He went back to being a florist at his sister's business upon his release.
Tommy Wisbey (born April 1930) was luckier than most of the others, in that his loot had been entrusted to his brothers, and when he emerged, he had a house in South London and a few other investments to keep him going. Unfortunately, during his prison stint, his daughter Lorraine had died in a car accident. He took a while to learn how to live harmoniously with his wife Rene (his daughter Marilyn having moved out upon his return). Shortly after his release, Wisbey was imprisoned on remand over a swindle involving travellers' cheques. The judge acknowledged the minor nature of his role.
Thomas Wisbey and James Hussey fell back into crime and were jailed in 1989 for cocaine dealing, with Wisbey sentenced to ten years and Hussey to seven years. In her book Gangster's Moll, Marilyn Wisbey recounts that on 8 June 1988, after returning home from a visit to an abortion clinic and lying down for a nap they were raided by the Drugs Squad. Her parents were staying with her and her son Jonathan while their tenants moved out of their house (they had been away on a long trip to the USA). The raid uncovered 1 kg of cocaine and Rene and Marilyn Wisbey were arrested along with Jimmy Hussey, who had been spotted accepting a package from Tommy Wisbey in a park. Wisbey himself was captured a year later in Wilmslow, Cheshire. He was allegedly staying with another woman, to the shock of his wife and daughter. In return for Hussey and Wisbey pleading guilty, the two women were unconditionally freed. Upon their release from prison, both men retired from work.
Tommy Wisbey later explained: "We were against drugs all our lives, but as the years went on, towards the end of the '70s, it became more and more the 'in' thing. Being involved in the Great Train Robbery, our name was good. They knew we had never grassed anyone, we had done our time without putting anyone else in the frame". On 26 July 1989, the two men pleaded guilty and admitted at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London that they were a part of a £500,000 cocaine trafficking ring. Wisbey's grandson has also had trouble with the law in Cyprus.
In later years, the robbers generally came together only for the funerals of their fellow gang members. At Wilson's funeral on 10 May 1990, Reynolds saw Roy James (who got into a verbal argument with the press), Buster Edwards, Bob Welch (hobbling on crutches) and Jimmy White (who went unnoticed most due to his ability to blend into the background). At Edward's funeral in 1994, Reynolds only saw Bob Welch there, with Hussey, Wisbey and James all in prison.
John Wheater was released from prison in February 1966 and managed his family's laundry business in Harrogate. He later wrote two articles in the Sunday Telegraph.
Lenny Field was released in 1967 and went to live in North London. He disappeared from the public eye.
The replacement train driver was never found. He had no criminal record and in the end Mills drove the train anyway, with police having no reason to suspect the other's involvement.
Mills had constant trauma headaches the rest of his life. He died in 1970 from leukaemia. Mills' assailant was one of three members of the gang who was never identified. Frank Williams (at the time a Detective Inspector) claims that at least three men who were directly involved are still at liberty and enjoying to the full their share of the money stolen and the profits from the way they invested it. One of them is the man responsible for the attack on the train driver. The train driver's assailant is not some phantom figure lurking in the criminal underworld. Williams traced him, identified him and took him to Scotland Yard where, with Tommy Butler, Williams questioned him. They were certain of their facts but he could not be charged because of lack of evidence suitable for presentation in a court; he had left no fingerprints or identifiable marks anywhere. None of those arrested informed on him although he had completely disobeyed instructions and used violence during the robbery.
Like Jack Mills, David Whitby was also from Crewe. David was traumatised by his track-side assault and subsequent rough treatment and never recovered from his ordeal.[clarification needed] He was 25 years old at the time of the robbery. He was able to resume his career as a secondman. However he subsequently died from a heart attack on 6 January 1972 at the age of 34.[clarification needed]
After his success in securing White and Edwards, Tommy Butler got the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson, to suspend his retirement on his 55th birthday so he could continue to hunt the robbers. This paid off with the arrests of first Wilson, then Reynolds. When asked by a reporter after the sentencing of Reynolds whether that was the end of it, Butler replied that it was not over until Biggs was caught. In 1969 he was finally forced to accept compulsory retirement, and later died in 1970, aged 57 years. That same day, Biggs's memoirs were published in The Sun newspaper.
Butler's deputy, Frank Williams, was passed over to be his replacement as head of the Flying Squad because of his deal with Edwards (which he thought would seal his promotion) and his deal with another of the robbers who was never caught. Following this, he left the force to become head of security for QANTAS. He wrote his autobiography No Fixed Address, which was published in 1973.
Jack Slipper of the Metropolitan Police was promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent. He became so involved in the case that he continued to hunt many of the escaped robbers after he retired. He believed Biggs should not be released after returning to the UK in 2001 and he often appeared in the media to comment on any news item connected with the robbery before his death on 24 August 2005 at the age of 81.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ernest Malcolm Fewtrell, Head of the Buckinghamshire Crime Investigation Department (CID) was born on 29 September 1909 and died on 28 November 2005, aged 96 years. He retired on the last day of the trial after the verdicts were handed down (at the then compulsory retirement age of 55). This allowed him (with Ronald Payne of The Sunday Telegraph, who was involved in the paper's coverage of the case) to be the first of the investigators to write a book The Train Robbers on the robbery investigation in 1964. In the book he expressed some frustration with the Flying Squad although he mostly had praise for individual officers. His one regret was that he had the search for the hideout carried out radiating outwards from the scene of the robbery rather than an inwards search from a 35-mile (56 km) perimeter. He worked as an Accommodation Officer for Portsmouth Polytechnic before retiring to live by the sea near Swanage. He continued to express disgust at any film that he felt glamorised the robbers. It has been said that he bore a striking resemblance to John Thaw, who was the star of Inspector Morse, which, perhaps coincidentally, was a television series about a detective in the Thames Valley Police Force (the modern-day successor to Buckinghamshire Constabulary).
George Hatherill (1898–1986) had his service extended by one year because of the need to complete the investigation of the Great Train Robbery. He visited Canada and the USA as a lecturer on police matters. He died on 17 June 1986 at the age of 87.
Gerald MacArthur died aged 70 years on 21 July 1996. He was famous for breaking up the Richardson Gang at a time when a significant number of London-based detectives were known to be corrupt.
Ernest (Ernie) Millen (1911–1988) was regarded as one of the finest-ever detectives from Scotland Yard by the time of his retirement.
One of the Post Office carriages involved is preserved at the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and is being restored. The locomotive was no. D326 (later no. 40126). It was involved in a number of serious operating incidents throughout its operational life. The retrieved Monopoly board used by the robbers at their Leatherslade Farm hideout, as well as a genuine £5 note from the robbery, are on display at the Thames Valley Police museum in Sulhamstead, Berkshire.
The audacity and scale of the robbery was yet another controversy with which the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan had to cope. Macmillan resigned in October 1963, claiming poor health. He did not contest his seat at the next election in September 1964, which the Labour Party won under Harold Wilson.
£2,631,684 was stolen from the train (although the police report claims that £2,595,997 was the actual amount stolen). The bulk of the haul was in £1 notes and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note which was half its size). The £5 notes were bundled in batches of £2,500, the £1 notes in batches of £500. There were also ten-shilling notes in batches of £250. A quantity of Irish and Scottish money was also stolen. With the exception of a few 'drinks' for associates, the loot was split into 17 equal shares of around £150,000 each (George Hatherill claims that there were 18 shares).
Although within six months of the robbery ten of the robbers had been locked up awaiting trial and three others were wanted criminals on the run, very little of the money had actually been recovered. This has caused speculation that there is a great deal of robbery loot still out there. In fact, the money was quickly seized and spent by predatory gangsters and greedy associates, relatives and lawyers. So the proceeds of the greatest cash robbery in British history were quickly used up, with few of the robbers receiving any real long-term benefit from the stolen money.
Less than £400,000 was eventually recovered. Over half of this consisted of the shares of Roger Cordrey (£141,017) and (allegedly) Brian Field (£100,900). A further £36,000 was recovered from Jimmy White's caravan. Roy James was carrying £12,041 when captured. The final sum recovered was £47,245 that was found in a telephone box in Great Dover Street, Newington, South London.
The £47,245 recovered from a telephone box, included 57 notes whose serial numbers had been recorded by the bank in Scotland. This money was allegedly part of a deal struck with Frank Williams by "Alf Thomas". Piers Paul Read, in The Train Robbers, claimed that the police were feeling the pressure because although they had caught many of the robbers, they had failed to recover much of the money. While no evidence had been found against "Thomas", who only had a reputation as a minor thief, some of the identifiable bank notes had been traced back to him through friends who had been charged with receiving. Given that the police had no evidence against "Thomas", either at Leatherslade Farm or connection with either of the two gangs, Butler was prepared to let him go. Williams convinced Butler to pull "Thomas" in for questioning and in return for releasing him and not charging his friends with more serious crimes, £50,000 was to be returned. On 3 December 1963, which happened to be the same day that Roy James was taken into custody, the police received an anonymous tip directing them to the money in the phone box. The money was driven up to Aylesbury and taken into custody by Detective Superintendent Fewtrell, who wondered how his London colleagues could know how much money there was. He had to bring in bank clerks to count the damp and musty money to determine the final sum.
However, Williams made no admission to the recovery of the money being the result of a deal with Thomas. Despite claiming that his negotiations were responsible for the return of this money, Williams in his book No Fixed Address (1973) claimed not to know the identity of the person who had returned the money, although he did mention several robbers to whom he had offered deals through intermediaries. He noted that it seemed to him that Butler was sceptical of his efforts and that at the press conference Hatherill and Millen did not reveal the circumstances behind the find and that he was never asked to talk with them about it. Despite Alf Thomas being the man identified as the assailant of the train driver, Jack Mills, by Bruce Reynolds (albeit indirectly), Williams only makes mention of the assailant once in his book. In this section (often quoted by other sources), he confirms that, with Tommy Butler, he questioned the man they knew to be the assailant but that they had no evidence to convict him. Strangely, however, he makes no further mention of him. This lends credence to the claim that a deal was done with Alf Thomas which later caused outrage in the police hierarchy. It is hinted in several books that the deals done by Williams were responsible for him being overlooked for promotion and that Williams was unhappy his efforts were not recognised by Butler, but were instead hidden from superiors.
For his part, George Hatherill, in his book A Detective's Tale, stated that the motive behind the return of the money was not known for certain. He said that the money was returned by "one about whom extensive inquiries had been made and who in fact was interrogated at length. But in spite of our strong suspicions, nothing could be proved against him and so no charge could be brought. My belief is that he thought we knew more about him than we did, and thinking things were getting hot, he decided to get rid of the money to avoid being found in possession with it". Hatherill does not mention Williams at all in his book. He retired on the last day of the trial at Aylesbury.
With a few notable exceptions, the money was quickly laundered or divided by friends, family and associates of the robbers. Much was laundered through bookmakers (Wilson and Wisbey were themselves bookmakers), although, astonishingly, only a few hundred pounds were identifiable by serial number so the robbers could have spent the money without fear of being traced. There were 1,579 notes whose serial numbers were known and the rest of the money was completely untraceable.
The £5 notes on the train were of two different types, because in 1957 the British Government had begun to replace the large white notes with smaller blue ones. The final changeover had not been completed by the time of the robbery. The white notes quickly became far more conspicuous to use, making it harder for them to be spent.
The ten gang members who were arrested shortly after the robbery had to spend a large amount on legal fees (approximately £30,000 each). Nine of them were sentenced to lengthy jail terms even though one-fifth of the proceeds of their theft was spent on lawyers. Additionally, several associates of the robbers were charged with receiving several hundred pounds of the money, but the lawyers defending the robbers obtained many times more in fees.
The robbers who spent much time on the run overseas - Reynolds, Wilson and Edwards - had very little left when finally arrested, having had to spend money avoiding capture and indulging in lavish lifestyles without finding employment. Much of Jimmy White's money was taken from him.
According to Marilyn Wisbey, her father's share was hidden by his father Tommy Wisbey Senior in the panels in the doors of his home. Butler raided them three times but he never found the train money. The majority of the money was reputedly entrusted to Wisbey's father and also to his younger brother Ron, who coincidentally had saved some money of his own that was confiscated by the police. (It was returned to Ron three months later). By the time Wisbey was released from jail all of his share had either been spent or invested. Marilyn agrees with Piers Paul Read's assessment of how her father's share of approximately £150,000 was spent. Although the Wisbey share was one that was not taken by other criminals, Marilyn Wisbey is still bitter that her relatives got to spend a fair amount of the loot while the overall sum dwindled away. However, her grandfather used some of the money to buy them a house in Upper Norwood.
Six of the robbers escaped punishment in one way or another - the mysterious "Ulsterman" whose fate is unknown, three robbers who were never caught, John Daly who was lucky to have his charges dismissed at the trial and Ronnie Biggs who escaped jail and managed to avoid being taken back to the UK. John Daly had entrusted his money to another crook. This man had betrayed him to the police and had absconded with the money. He died before Daly could catch up to him. Upon the release of the others in the mid-1970s, "Bill Jennings"Who is this? got in touch with Buster Edwards and "Frank Monroe" got in touch with the South Coast Raiders. Both said that they had no money left. "Alf Thomas" had disappeared and John Daly at the time was said to be living on the dole in West Country. Ronnie Biggs quickly spent his share getting a new life (the ultimate goal of some criminals). He loved his new life in Australia, although by the time his family arrived in 1966, all but £7,000 had been spent. £55,000 had been paid as a package deal to get him out of the UK. The rest had gone on legal fees and expenses.
These books were written in the immediate aftermath of the 1964 trial and before the capture of several of the gang.
These are predominantly the books written by the senior police in the early 1970s after they had just retired from the force, which are largely confined to the story of the investigation, trial and capture of the robbers.
These books are mostly literature reviews of the earlier books, combined with some research of the archival material.