The Fugitive: Biggs toasts freedom as extradition bid fails

Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, learnt yesterday that he will not be extradited to Britain after 32 years of exile in Brazil. It is a sweet victory for one of the most famous criminals of our time.

These days his place in the annals of crime owes more to his status as a notorious fugitive than his prowess as a villain but Ronnie Biggs, learnt yesterday that he can remain in his Brazilian bolthole.

His long battle to escape the clutches of British justice was finally won when the Supreme Court in Brazil unanimously rejected a request by Britain for his extradition.

The judges sitting in the capital Brasilia ruled that his case fell foul of Brazil's Statute of Limitations on a crime committed more than 20 years ago.

Lawyers had been preparing for a lengthy extradition battle but yesterday's ruling means that Britain's case effectively fell at the first hurdle. The Government formally lodged an extradition request with the Brazilian authorities a fortnight ago, two months after the long-awaited extradition treaty between the two countries was finally ratified.

Biggs, who said that he would not fight any attempts to bring him back to Britain, wept with delight when he learnt of the ruling. In a phone call to his solicitors, he was said to be "totally relieved" and "thrilled to bits". The Home Office was "obviously disappointed".

Biggs was sentenced to 30 years or his part in the pounds 2.6m 1963 Great Train Robbery of the Carlisle to London Royal Mail train in which driver Jack Mills was coshed with an iron bar. He escaped from Wandsworth Prison in 1965, and fled to Rio de Janeiro in 1970 via Australia.

A long-term petty criminal, who made his first court appearance aged 15 for stealing pencils, Biggs became a criminal on a grand scale when he was given the chance to play a bit part in a big robbery.

Biggs's role was to find a driver for the train. But the driver he found had problems with the controls and the train's legitimate driver, Mr Mills, 57, was coshed with iron bars and forced to move the train. He died seven years later.

The gang shared out the proceeds - Biggs taking around pounds 148,000 - but thereafter things started to go badly wrong, with nearly all the gang members being rounded up by the police.

Eleven of them got jail sentences ranging from 14 to 30 years. Sentenced on 15 April 1964, Biggs served just 15 months of his 30-year sentence. On 8 July 1965, he escaped from Wandsworth prison. After a brief stopover in Paris for pounds 40,000 worth of plastic surgery, he travelled to Australia, entering the country on a false passport.

But when the trail began to hot up again, Biggs simply disappeared. There were reports of sightings in Hong Kong, South Africa and Japan, but there were no firm leads as to his precise whereabouts. In fact, he was building a new life for himself in Brazil, but his peace was shattered in February 1974, when he was tracked down in Rio by a reporter - and shortly afterwards by Detective Inspector Jack Slipper of Scotland Yard. But the Yard's efforts to get him back to Britain were foiled by Brazilian law.