Biggs laments his old foe, Slipper of the Yard

In the end, Jack Slipper - "Slipper of the Yard" - the former Flying Squad head who died yesterday, aged 81, saw the sick and impoverished Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs come home to face justice, but failed in his wish to outlive his old adversary.

Mr Slipper had confessed his respect for his quarry and yesterday it was the turn of Biggs and Bruce Reynolds, the leader of the train robbers' gang, to pay warm tributes to the man who had arrested them in 1963.

Mr Slipper was best known for pursuing Biggs, who had escaped from Wandsworth prison, to Rio de Janeiro in 1974 in a Daily Express-negotiated deal that backfired. He was forced to return empty handed amid a diplomatic furore when the Brazilian authorities said Biggs could not be extradited because his Brazilian partner was pregnant with his son, Michael.

It was later revealed that Mr Slipper had neglected to inform the Home Office, the Department of Public Prosecutions or the Brazilian authorities, of his mission in advance. In the early 1990s Mr Slipper, then retired, made another unsuccessful attempt to persuade the homesick and impoverished Biggs to come back to London - "to prove his point that crime did not pay".

Eventually, Biggs returned voluntarily in 2001. He had earned the respect of Mr Slipper, who believed Biggs should be given his freedom to spend his last days with his son.

Biggs remains in Belmarsh prison, incapacitated through a stroke. A statement issued by his son yesterday read: "We as a family are very sad with the death of Mr Slipper. Even though my father and Mr Slipper were on different sides of the fence there was a high and mutual respect between them." Mr Slipper, then a detective superintendent, was one of the legendary Flying Squad detectives who hunted the Great Train Robbers who stole £2.6m (£350m in today's money) from a mail train in August 1963 - the biggest robbery of its kind. Mr Slipper arrested Biggs and several of the other robbers. Bruce Reynolds, who masterminded the crime, said yesterday: "He was always affable. He was a big man and that sort of weight carries some force in the underworld. So he was quite a character and very well known by friend and foe."

Other tributes came from more obvious sources. Detective Chief Superintendent Barry Phillips, of the Flying Squad, said: "Through the illustrious history of the Flying Squad, Jack Slipper is a name that sits above all others as a tenacious investigator and well-respected head of the Flying Squad.''

The Great Train Robbery was one of many major cases Mr Slipper helped to investigate. His proudest achievement was in bringing to justice the murderers of three police officers in Shepherd's Bush in 1966, when his knowledge of the underworld in west London came to the fore. One of those convicted, Harry Roberts, remains in prison.

The lives of the Great Train Robbers

By Charlotte Philby

* Ronald Biggs got 30 years, but escaped after 15 months. He fled to Australia then Brazil, returning in 2001. He is in frail condition in Belmarsh Prison.

* Charlie Wilson was jailed for 30 years. He escaped in 1964 but was caught in Canada in 1968. In 1990, at 58, he was shot dead over a drugs deal.

* Bruce Reynolds, a former antiques dealer and the ringleader, was arrested in Torquay in 1969 and sentenced to 25 years; he served 10.

* Ronald "Buster" Edwards surrendered in 1966 after three years in Mexico. He served nine years and became a flower seller. He killed himself in 1994.

* Roy James, the getaway driver, got 30 years and served 12. In 1993, he got six years for a shooting. He died in 1997.

* James "Big Jim" Hussey, a decorator, got 30 years and was freed in 1975. In 1981 he got 10 years for assault, and another 10 in 1989 for a cocaine deal.

* Tommy Wisbey, a bookmaker, got 30 years and was freed in 1976. In 1989, he was jailed for 10 years, for the cocaine deal with Hussey. He is now disabled after an operation.