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Ronnie Biggs pleads: Let me out so I can die with my family

Great Train Robber, in jail after 35 years on the run, is now partially paralysed, and doctors back his release

Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, made a desperate appeal for his effort to get parole. In a statement issued to The Independent on Sunday, Biggs, 78, asked to be released from jail to die with his family: "I am an old man and often wonder if I truly deserve the extent of my punishment. I have accepted it and only want freedom to die with my family and not in jail. I hope Mr Straw decides to allow me to do that.

"I have been in jail for a long time and I want to die a free man. I am sorry for what happened . It has not been an easy ride over the years. Even in Brazil I was a prisoner of my own making," he said.

Biggs, who returned from Brazil in 2001 after 35 years on the run, is serving the 30-year sentence he was given in 1964 for his role in the theft of 2.6m a record haul at the time. A series of strokes has rendered him partially paralysed and unable to speak, and he is fed through a tube. He can however, walk unassisted and is mentally alert and in good humour.

His early release application forms seen by The Independent on Sunday show that his prison governor, James Shanley, has vetoed his request despite clearance from doctors, who say he is physically incapable of committing further crimes, and his probation officer, who is satisfied with his 34-year-old son Michael's plan to admit him to a private nursing home in Barnet, north London.

But Mr Shanley, the governor of category-C Norwich prison, where Biggs receives 24-hour care, has kept him behind bars on the grounds that he is not about to die.

The doctor who compiled the medical report wrote: "Mr Biggs is unlikely to be capable of committing further criminal acts, particularly of a physical or violent or sexual nature."

His probation officer described how Biggs used an alphabet card to talk about his family, visiting and football, but never the 1963 train robbery that gained his notoriety. Referring to Michael Biggs's plans for his father, he said: "These arrangements would seem suitable in terms of supervision, oversight and, as I understand, medical support."

But Mr Shanley, in answering to a question on the form "Do you consider that the prisoner should be released early?", writes: "No. There is little evidence that Mr Biggs is likely to die imminently and I do not think that he is incapacitated enough to not cope with the prison environment. HMP Norwich is able to adequately care for Mr Biggs."

Earlier this year Biggs, who has submitted several requests for release, was transferred to Norwich from the medical wing at London's high-security Belmarsh prison, where he has stayed since his return to the UK.

He is not eligible for parole until 2010. In an earlier statement, he apologised for his crime, claiming: "There is no honour to being known as a Great Train Robber. My life has been wasted."

His legal representative, Giovanni di Stefano, wrote to Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice: "It is not the role of the Prison Service to provide nursing care but a role that should be for the National Health Service or, as it is conceded that Mr Biggs is clearly of no risk to anyone including himself, he should be released on compassionate grounds."

The Home Office declined to comment last week on Mr Biggs's request.