I feel uncomfortable about the tone in coverage of Ronnie Biggs’ death – as do a few of you, going by your correspondence. i reader Richard Bristowe points out in our Letters page today: “A real celebrity, our Ronnie. Couldn’t be bothered to earn an honest living, played a minor role in a heroic escapade when an almost forgotten victim was terribly injured.”
Some in the media fell into the trap of glorifying a low life, treating his demise like the departure of a rock icon. In two of the more restrained examples, Reuters trumpeted about “the fabulously entrepreneurial life of Ronnie Biggs”, while The Guardian helpfully provided us with “Ronnie Biggs’ best quotes on the run”.
I grew up three miles from Bridego Bridge, site of the Great Train Robbery, but there was little glamour attached to the crime locally, trifling enjoyment found in the audacity of the act or the taunting of British authorities from Rio.
As a reporter I met his son Michael 10 years ago, during the campaign to have Ronnie freed from prison as his health failed. But I had little sympathy for Biggs then (or now), despite the lack of compassion shown him by successive Home Secretaries. He enjoyed his tacky notoriety, dined on it, exaggerated his role in the theft – “one of my greatest hits...the crime of the century” – showed zero contrition, boasted that he would do it all over again, and eventually ran out of money and good health.
I take no solace in his death, but hope that it allows us to bury the tawdry lore that has grown around a violent crime.