On 24 March 1981 the world discovered that Ronnie Biggs was still very much alive – even if a little unsteady on his feet – after he arrived by yacht in Barbados having disappeared from Rio de Janeiro on 16 March.
At the time many thought it was one of Biggs’ publicity stunts, now they would learn that he had in fact been kidnapped from a restaurant in Rio by a group of British mercenaries as he waited to meet a journalist. The group, and the fake journalsit, were never charged for his kidnapping despite the British authorities knowing who they were.
Having arrived in Barbados the expectation was that Biggs would be quickly extradited back to Britain and HMP Wandsworth. That was not to be the case, however, as a legal ruling in Barbados in April 1981 would see Biggs’ case dismissed and his return to Brazil rather than Britain.
50 Years On: In March 1971 Ronnie Biggs took a 24-hour, 1,200 mile bus trip (in each direction) from Rio de Janeiro to Corumbá on the Brazilian border with Bolivia. He wanted to cross over into Puerto Suárez and re-enter Brazil to have his visa in “Mike Haynes’” passport validated for another six months.
In September 1970 he had already taken a similar trip down to Argentina and Buenos Aires for the same reason. The Bolivia trip, hovwever, was his last after Biggs decided that there were more risks involved in taking such trips than staying in Brazil without the visa. The real Mike Haynes also needed his passport sent back to Australia so he could return to the UK.
50 years ago January 1971 was not a happy time for the Biggs family. During the first week of January 1971, as Charmian was driving the three boys home in Melbourne after spending the New Year holidays at Somers on West Port Bay, her car was hit side on as Charmian was crossing an intersection. It was her right of way.
The Biggs’ oldest son, Nicky, took the brunt of the impact and was thrown from the car and tragically died. He was just 10. Chris, Farley and Charmian were all injured.
The funeral on 10 January was a media and police circus as there was speculation that Biggs would come out of hiding to attend the funeral. The authorities still believing that he was hiding out in Australia. The police even removed all the cards from the wreaths and flowers in the hope of finding a clue to Biggs’ whereabouts.
In pre-internet or global media days, news of the crash and Nicky’s death did not feature in Brazil. Ron was only to learn of his son’s death from a letter from Charmian that he received in February 1971, over a month after the crash.
On receiving the news, Ron almost gave himself up by walking into the British Consulate in Rio de Janiero, but changed his mind at the very last moment. The death weighed heavily on Ron’s mind and played a part in his decision to return to the UK in February 1974. Which would have happened if Ron had not been betrayed by the Daily Express to Scotland Yard.
RIP: Nicholas Grant Biggs (23 July 1960 – 5 January 1971)
Ronnie Biggs would have been very pleased to see his friends on the Death List have their own Covid masks. He would have certainly used one and encouraged other to use them to stay off the Death List.
Ron appeared on the Death List a record thirteen times, the first year being in 2000, the year before his return to the UK. Ron took the Death List in his normal good humour and interacted with the people behind the list, and those that treated it in the right spirit.
Nine years ago, on 17 November 2011, Ronnie released his final and most complete autobiography, “Odd Man Out: The Last Straw”, at Shoreditch House in London. It was the first press conference Ron had ever given in the UK.