Gordon Goody: Criminal who admitted that he had been the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery

Goody in 1964, during his trial at Aylesbury Assizes: the judge described the Robbery as ‘a crime of sordid violence inspired by vast greed’

Chris Maume
Saturday 30 January 2016 11:55 GMT
‘My dad wanted me to be a plumber’s mate,’ he said. ‘I wanted to be a criminal’
‘My dad wanted me to be a plumber’s mate,’ he said. ‘I wanted to be a criminal’ (PA)

Gordon Goody, who has died at the age of 86 in his adopted town of Mojacar in Spain, where he owned a bar called Kon Tiki, was one of the last surviving members of the Great Train Robbery gang – and later admitted that he was the mastermind behind the “crime of the century”.

On 8 August 1963 a gang led by Bruce Reynolds stopped the Glasgow-Euston overnight mail train as it passed through the Buckinghamshire countryside close to Cheddington. It was driven a mile and a half to Bridego Bridge, where the gang unloaded £2,631,684 in used notes, worth around £46m today.

They were later captured and 12 were jailed for a total of more than 300 years. Goody, who had been living with his mother and fiancée in Putney, was sentenced to 30 years but was released in 1975, setting up his Spanish bar four years later. More than one of the robbers broke out of prison, including Ronnie Biggs, who spent more than three decades on the run before he returned to Britain in 2001. Reynolds returned in 1968 and was jailed for 25 years.

Born in Putney in 1930 of Irish descent, Goody took his first steps in the criminal world smuggling cattle over the Irish border. In the early 1960s he joined a gang led by future Train Robber Buster Edwards, before setting up the heist that made his name.

“My old man wanted me to be a plumber’s mate,” he recalled. “I wanted to be a criminal. You never have to work hard to be a criminal. You do something, see something, you’ve no money, you take it. It gets easier next time and then you don’t feel no qualms about what you’ve done. Then you’re a thief. I was always a thief, never a gangster.”

In 2014 he broke his long silence about the Great Train Robbery for a documentary, A Tale of Two Thieves, in which he revealed the identity of the mysterious insider, “the Ulsterman”, who had helped him set up the job. It was, he said, a 43-year-old Belfast postal worker living in Islington called Patrick McKenna who told him how the post train operated and advised the gang to postpone for a day as there would be more cash on board. McKenna had died a few years before the documentary was made.

In the film Goody also admitted to being the mastermind, but he insisted that evidence produced at the trial was fake. The prize exhibit was a pair of his shoes, supposedly from the farmhouse where the gang had holed up.

But, he said, “They weren’t the shoes I’d worn for the train. I wore desert boots. They took my brown suede shoes from my mum’s and they appeared at court, complete with yellow paint. The judge knew I’d been fitted up. But I had the worst record of all of them. He said I was the saddest case in front of him, and said my powers of leadership would have won me medals in a war. Then he pulled a 30.”

Perhaps Goody was being paid back for his cheek. In 1962 he had been acquitted after a retrial of taking part in the Comet House robbery at Heathrow; as Geoff Platt recounts in his book The Great Train Robbery and the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad, as the jury filed out of court, he walked over to the evidence table and picked up a chain that had been used to secure a gate, and pointed out to the forensics experts a dummy link that had been inserted in it to aid the robbers’ escape.

Goody believed that the inordinately heavy jail sentences, which came in the wake of the Profumo scandal and were interpreted by some as part of the Establishment’s attempt to regain control of a society that was developing a mind of its own, had unintended consequences. “Guns came in after the train,” he said. “I owned two shotguns but I’d never have taken them on a job. If someone is on a bit of work and they’re going to do a lot of bird, then they’ve nothing to lose. They made a rod for their own backs.”

In common with the rest of the gang, he never saw much of the loot; he had left his share with a friend when he went inside, and it had gone by the time he got out. He recalled in the documentary gazing in awe at the vast piles of cash at the hide-out. “It was a sight to see,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind seeing it today.”

He became a much-loved resident of Mojacar, whose town hall released a statement: “All who knew him were struck by his friendliness, his love for his friends and family and the many pets he rescued from the street. He was a complete gentleman, far removed from the image that those who didn’t know him might have had from those difficult years that marked a large part of his life. We will always remember his smile and his big heart that was always open to those around him.”

As the statement suggests, Goody was an animal-lover; when he was jailed, his pet Alsatian, Sheena, reportedly pined and died despite being taken to the prison to visit him.

“It’s a fearsome thing to be going to prison with a long sentence,” he recalled. “There’s a way of doing time, you either lie on your bed and cry or you go to the gym and the library.” Goody taught himself Spanish and read widely. In 2014 he wrote a memoir, How To Rob A Train. He lived in Spain with his long-term partner Maria, with whom he had a daughter. He said that although she was proud of him, he had made his grandson a bedroom poster which read, “Don’t ever try to imitate your grandad”.

Douglas Gordon Goody, Great Train Robber and bar owner: born London March 1930; partner to Maria (one daughter); died Mojacar, Spain 29 January 2016.

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