Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Great Train Robber' Biggs laid to rest in cheeky style

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LONDON -- Defiant to the end, British train robber Ronnie Biggs was laid to rest Friday at a funeral complete with a Dixieland band, an honour guard of Hells Angels and a cheeky floral tribute.

A hearse carrying Biggs, who died last month at age 84, was escorted by 13 bikers to London's Golders Green Crematorium.

The hearse bore a white floral wreath in the shape of a rude two-fingered salute and a coffin draped in the flags of Britain and of Brazil, where Biggs lived for three decades and where he was transformed from fugitive into folk hero.

The coffin was brought into the packed chapel to the strains of the London Dixieland Jazz Band.

"People have asked me 'How can you take part in the funeral of a Great Train Robber?' " said Rev. Dave Thompson, who led the funeral service. "What we need to remember is that Jesus didn't hang out with hoity-toity folk, he just treated people as people."

Biggs was part of a gang that pulled off 1963's "Great Train Robbery" of a cash-packed Glasgow-to-London mail train.

The heist netted 1.6 million pounds -- $7.3 million at the time, or more than US$60 million today -- but most of the gang members were soon arrested.

Biggs was jailed but escaped from London's Wandsworth Prison and made his way to Brazil. He lived in Rio de Janeiro for more than 30 years -- regaling journalists and tourists with his story, recording with the Sex Pistols and selling commemorative T-shirts -- before returning voluntarily to Britain, and prison, in 2001.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 A23

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