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The bulk of the money stolen equivalent to over GBP40 million today has never been recovered, and there has not been a single year since when one aspect of the crime or its participants has not been featured in the media. Despite the wealth and extent of this coverage, a host of questions have remained unanswered: Who was behind the robbery? Was it an inside job? And who got away with the crime of the century?
Fifty years of selective falsehood and fantasy has obscured the reality of the story behind the robbery. The fact that a considerable number of the original investigation and prosecution files on those involved and alleged to have been involved were closed, in many cases until , has only served to muddy the waters still further. Now, through Freedom of Information requests and the exclusive opening of many of these files, Andrew Cook reveals a new picture of the crime and its investigation that, at last, provides answers to many of these questions.
Help Centre. A radio ham overheard their conversations and told the police, who initially thought he was pulling their leg. Nobody was ever arrested. The robbery made headlines for a few days and then disappeared — the result of a government D-Notice, gagging the press. The police were ahead of the gang and caught them red-handed. They kidnapped the depot manager, his wife and his young son and held them all until the robbery had been carried out; the robbers were disguised as police officers and wearing latex masks.
It failed to capture the public imagination not least because it involved the kidnapping of a child and woman.
There was some very sophisticated preparation and also some very silly mistakes that they had not thought through at all. There is nothing romantic or victimless about a child being held at gunpoint by a masked man. At the end of the Securitas trial, Bruce Reynolds, the ringleader of the train robbers, wrote a piece for the Guardian in effect a review of the later crime. We wanted to do something as spectacular as that.
The Securitas robbers faced the same problems that we had because we both had a large group of people but it was different for us because we all came from a common background; we shared the same mores and we trusted each other.
Their other problem was that their robbery, like ours, was too big. You throw down the gauntlet to society and obviously society has to respond. Under the Coroners and Justice Act , ex-criminals are not allowed to profit from writing about their crimes. The law was attacked by Baroness Ruth Rendell as it made its way through the Lords; she cited Jean Genet as just one writer who would have been affected by it.
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The nature of professional crime, as Reynolds suggested, has changed in the same way as industry has. The old family firms and local enterprises have been replaced by multinationals. Criminals prefer now to be as faceless as a chief executive, rather than knock out their memoirs and feature in the press. By the end of the s, drugs were already beginning to replace robbery as a simpler way of getting money and many professional criminals moved into that field. I bumped into one old thief a few years ago who had sent his sons to public school with the proceeds of his crimes and now saw them working in the City and earning more than he could ever have dreamed of.
Reynolds died in February at the age of The death of an old villain these days follows a pattern: recollection of past crimes, a quote or two from their memoirs and some grainy old photos from outside the Old Bailey. This is generally followed a couple of days later by a few articles from the vicarish end of the commentariat on how shameful it is that criminals are portrayed as lovable rogues or diamond geezers when they are nothing but lowlife crooks.
Usually these articles make reference to Robin Hood and Dick Turpin and then despair at the national affection for some criminals. One reason was the length of sentences — 30 years each for seven of the defendants — handed out by Mr Justice Edmund Davies. To deal with this case leniently would be a positively evil thing. In the usual sentence for a robbery was about 12 years and the death penalty for murder was still two years from abolition. As Reynolds observed later, the message sent by the sentences was that if you were now going to get a year term for robbery you might as well carry a gun.
One of them, Harry Roberts, remains in jail to this day. From the s onwards, it became standard practice for robbers to carry firearms. Another reason why the story and myths around the train robbery took off was the period. Private Eyehad just arrived on the scene.
It was the end of the age of deference, when judges and politicians became figures of fun. There are echoes of that mood and lack of respect today, because of the behaviour of politicians, the City, the Catholic Church. The robbery seemed audacious, in tune with the times.
That some of the perpetrators escaped or were never captured kept the story alive and turned it into a long-running soap opera. There was Ronnie Biggs, who escaped over the wall of Wandsworth Prison in , fleeing to Brazil and avoiding extradition from there by fathering a child by an exotic dancer. He was later kidnapped by a bunch of exarmy chancers and finally came home to tussle with the then justice secretary, Jack Straw, over whether he should ever be allowed out of jail. There was Charlie Wilson, who was tracked down to Canada and then, having served a sentence, was shot dead as he prepared a barbecue on the Costa del Crime.
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There was Buster Edwards, who after his early release in sold flowers outside Waterloo Station and became the subject of a film starring Phil Collins and Julie Walters. The s also saw the rise and fall of the Krays, lionised by some in the media and treated gently by parts of the establishment, notably Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg. So what of our fascination with criminals, real or fictional, artful dodgers or diamond geezers, Raffleses or Corleones?
The words we still use for lawbreakers offer a clue.
Great Train Robbery by Andrew Cook - Book - Read Online
Outlaws, bandits, desperadoes — all have a romantic feel in a way the nicknames for the police — plods, peelers, busies, the filth — do not. Perhaps some lawbreakers — particularly those who do not cause physical harm — fascinate the law-abiding because they represent forbidden fruit, disobedience, a frustrated transgressor within.
Reynolds did not portray himself as a victim, from a deprived background, driven to crime. He knew he could have made an honest living. He had fancied a career in journalism and, as a teenager, he had walked into Northcliffe House, the first newspaper office he found on Fleet Street, saying he wanted to be a reporter. He worked for a while as a messenger at the Daily Mail; who can tell whether the Almighty, on the dreadful day of judgement, might not conclude that the Mail had caused greater pain and damage to society than the train robbers?