Schneider's low score in roll-call of runners

Doing a runner was difficult enough even 900 years ago. Stephen of Blois, son-in-law of William the Conqueror, slid down a rope in 1097 to escape the siege of Antioch. Back in England, his disapproving wife, Adele, sent him back to the First Crusade.

In the modern world, where the long arm of the media seems to reach as far as that of the law, organising your own disappearance ought to be virtually impossible. But some big names are still on the loose.

"When you're on the run, you need a good cup of coffee," smirked Ronald Biggs in a Brazilian television commercial. Thirty years after he broke out from London's Wandsworth prison in July 1965, the Rio-based Great Train Robber remains one of the world's most successful evaders of justice. Apart from advertising coffee, he once made a single with the Sex Pistols and survived an episode in which bounty-hunters kidnapped him to Barbados.

Mild stimulants aside, what is the best way to disappear from the world? Jurgen Schneider, the German tycoon arrested in Florida on Thursday, did not know the answer. Caught after one year despite discarding his toupee, he compares poorly with the seventh Earl of Lucan who vanished after the murder of his nanny more than 20 years ago and whose hiding place, if he is alive, remains a mystery.

John Stonehouse, the former Labour posts and telecommunications minister, fared no better than Mr Schneider.

Mr Stonehouse faked his own death off a Miami beach in 1974, but was tracked down a year later in Australia.

The trick is not necessarily to lay a multitude of false trails and hope never to be found. Rather, it seems more astute to enter a country with flexible or non-existent extradition practices and then to go public.

This is how Biggs has stayed so long in Brazil. Another example is Bettino Craxi, the former Italian prime minister who slipped away to Tunisia despite having been convicted of corruption.

Asil Nadir, the Turkish Cypriot owner of the collapsed Polly Peck conglomerate, cocked a snook at British justice by fleeing in 1993 while on bail to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. There, he gives interviews and enjoys the protection of a self-proclaimed state whose legitimacy Britain does not recognise.

By contrast, Nick Leeson, the banker, whose trading losses helped bring down Barings, is trapped, while German authorities ponder whether to extradite him back to Singapore.

South America used to be the place to go missing in, especially if you were of the Sieg Heil! persuasion. But, as the SS killer Adolf Eichmann discovered in Argentina in 1960, Israeli agents never give up. After 15 years in hiding, he was captured, returned to Israel and hanged.

The comedian Stephen Fry showed this year that actors can feel a similar need to lie low.

However, he surfaced soon after calling himself "a silly old fool", for having deserted his starring role in a West End play.