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 The team argues that Mr Straw's decision rested on a law that had been repealed and on another overruled by the Law Lords in 2002.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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power