Ronnie Biggs: No remorse, no freedom

The Great Train Robber will probably die in jail after Jack Straw's much-criticised decision. He is, though, just one of a growing number of elderly prisoners

He is, after the events of the past week, still the most famous elderly inmate in the British prison system, but Ronnie Biggs is far from the only one. The Great Train Robber's family made much of the fact that Biggs's age and ill health were significant factors in the case for his release. The Parole Board agreed but the Justice Secretary, unimpressed at the old lag's refusal to show remorse for his crime, is not listening.

Biggs is currently in a Norwich hospital being treated for a fractured hip, pelvis and spine, and pneumonia. While he recovers, his lawyers are taking their fight for his release further by launching criminal proceedings tomorrow against Jack Straw for "false imprisonment".

Biggs's legal team also claims that the Justice Secretary acted outside his powers in denying parole on the grounds that the Great Train Robber was "wholly unrepentant" about his actions and had "outrageously courted the media". The team argues that Mr Straw's decision rested on a law that had been repealed and on another overruled by the Law Lords in 2002.

Biggs's allies claim to detect more than a whiff of politics in Mr Straw's decision. It would have been difficult for Mr Straw to parole a self-confessed – although unrepentant – criminal on one day and then refuse to release the Liverpool fan Michael Shields, who denies attempting to murder a Bulgarian waiter in 2005, the next.

The Biggs team has already begun marshalling its forces as its steps up its battle to overturn the parole decision. The Labour MP Harry Cohen is expected to visit Biggs in hospital this week to verify his condition.

Biggs was one of a 15-strong gang who held up a London-to-Glasgow mail train, making off with £2.6m at a railway bridge in Buckinghamshire. Most of the cash was never recovered.

Although he claims to have played a minor role in the heist, he was jailed for 30 years in 1964. He escaped by scaling the wall of the prison and jumping on to the roof of a furniture van. Biggs fled to France, where he had plastic surgery, and Spain before heading to Australia and later on to Brazil.

Police followed him to Brazil in 1974 but by then Biggs had a son, Michael, with his Brazilian girlfriend, making him legally untouchable. He surrendered in 2001, saying he wanted to see Britain and enjoy a pint of beer by the seaside before he died. Since then, Michael Biggs has led the campaign for his father's release.

Michael Biggs yesterday revealed that the Ministry of Justice had written to him confirming the decision not to review his father's case. In an angry attack on Mr Straw, he accused the secretary of state of hyprocrisy: "This is the same man that allowed [General] Pinochet [the Chilean dictator] – a mass murderer and torturer – to live out his days in freedom instead of allowing him to be extradited to Spain."

He said that when given the news last week that he was to stay in jail, his father responded: "What did you expect from the Labour government? Humanity?"

Biggs is one of a growing number of elderly people in prison. There are now more than 2,200 people aged 60 or over in jails in England and Wales, compared with 837 in 1997. Indeed, he forms part of the fastest-growing age group in the prison population. More than 500 inmates are aged over 70.

Penal reform groups insist the elderly should not be incarcerated in such numbers. They warn that older prisoners are more likely to sink into isolation and ill health, and to experience discrimination and bullying, during their time behind bars.

The Prison Reform Trust says the dramatic increase is not a reflection of increased criminality among the older generation.

"Harsher sentencing policies... have resulted in the courts sending a larger proportion of offenders aged over 60 to prison to serve longer sentences, particularly for sex and drug trafficking offences," a trust spokesman said.

The charity Age Concern & Help the Aged has also voiced criticism of the inadequate services and support provided for older offenders, both in prison and on their release.

The Ministry of Justice yesterday insisted that Mr Straw had the power to reject Parole Board recommendations. "The Justice Secretary absolutely retains the right to veto Parole Board recommendations to release prisoners sentenced for a sexual or violent offence committed prior to April 2005 and who have been given a determinate sentence of 15 years or over," a spokesman said.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice