On this day in history….12th August 1964

On this day in history : 12th August 1964 – A massive manhunt gets under way after Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson escapes from Winson Green Prison in Birmingham….

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32 year old Wilson had been the gang’s treasurer; it had been his job to divide up the £2.6m haul between the gang members, with each receiving £150k…. Wilson was quickly captured after the robbery – and at his trial he became known as ‘the silent man’ due to his refusal to speak…. He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment….

Just four months into his sentence, on the 12th of August 1964, three men broke into the prison during the early hours and freed him…. They had stolen a ladder from a nearby builders’ yard, which they used to gain access into the grounds of a psychiatric hospital next door to the prison…. From there they were able to use a rope ladder to scale the 20ft prison wall…. Once inside they coshed a guard and tied him up before opening Wilson’s cell door…. It remains a mystery as to how they got the key, as there was only one designated key holder on site – and it was not the guard that they had attacked….

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Wilson was on the run for three and a half years…. He was eventually recaptured in Canada on the 24th of January 1968 – after his wife had called her parents in England, only for the call to be traced…. Wilson was returned to England to finish his sentence…. He was released in 1978….

He emigrated to Marbella, Spain and became suspected of being involved with a drug smuggling ring…. Wilson was alledged to have lost some of the ring’s money through bad investments – and on the 23rd of April 1990, whilst relaxing beside his swimming pool, he was shot dead by a hitman….

On this day in history….24th March 1981

On this day in history : 24th March 1981 – Coast Guards from Barbados ‘rescue’ Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs after his kidnapping from a bar in Rio de Janeiro….

Biggs had been given a 30 year jail sentence for his part in the Great Train Robbery…. He had served just two years before managing to escape from Wandsworth Prison and fleeing to Brazil – which has no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom….

8th July 1965 Ronnie Biggs escapes from Wandsworth Prison – Image credit: Bradford Timeline via Flickr

On the 18th of March 1981 Biggs had a pre-arranged meeting with some men in a bar in Rio – they had contacted him on the pretext of making him into a film star…. In reality they were British ex-soldiers working for a security company – rather than the film crew they claimed to be…. The mastermind behind the plot was 52-year-old former Scots Guard John Miller….

Biggs was bundled into a car and taken to the coast where a yacht was waiting…. With him drugged, bound and gagged the boat set sail – the idea was to take him to Barbados, where he would be handed over to the authorities…. However, the yacht ran into mechanical difficulties 7 miles off of Barbados and Biggs and his 5 kidnappers were left stranded…. They had to be towed into Port by the Barbados Coast Guard Service….

After their identities had been checked and confirmed the kidnappers were released…. Miller refused to reveal who had paid for the ‘citizen’s arrest’ of Biggs….he claimed it was just a paid job – that had been completed…. Biggs was held in jail at the request of the immigration authorities whilst Britain attempted to secure his extradition…. At the same time Brazil were asking for him to be returned there….

Ronnie Biggs – Buckinghamshire Constabulary mug-shot 1964. Fair use

It was a legal loop-hole which allowed Biggs to make his escape yet again…. It turned out that Barbados had no valid extradition treaty with the UK either….and Ronnie Biggs was able to return to Brazil….