Lords unhappy about refusal of parole to “great train robber” Ronnie Biggs

July 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

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The case of a notorious criminal who has been denied parole despite being 79 and in ill-health has been raised by members of the House of Lords.

Lord Dubs raised the case of Ronnie Biggs with a justice minister last week.

Biggs was a member of a gang that stole he stole £2.6 million from a mail train in 1963.

He was convicted and jailed but escaped from prison in 1965 and fled to Australia and then to South America, settling in Brazil for more than 30 years.

He became a celebrity and returned to the UK in 2001. He has been in prison since.

Lord Dubs asked what considerations the government took into account in refusing parole to Biggs.

Lord Bach, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, said Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, considered “all the material that was before the Parole Board panel.”

“This included details of Mr Biggs’s index offence; his previous offending history; his escape from Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth in 1965; the many years which he subsequently spent evading extradition and recapture; his progress in custody after he returned to the United Kingdom in 2001; the reports prepared by staff in NOMS; the written representations of his legal representative; and the Parole Board’s recommendation.

“After careful consideration, the Justice Secretary determined that the risk of harm presented by Mr Biggs was such that it might not be safely managed in the community.”

Lord Dubs, “while not for a moment condoning the crime that Mr Biggs originally committed,” said the prisoner is “old, very ill, most unlikely to do any harm to anybody and no danger to society and that the public would not protest at his early release.”

Lord Bach quoted the Parole Board report:

“What has quite plainly reduced enormously is his capacity to reoffend; the medical evidence indicates overwhelmingly that his own ability to commit further acts of violence has reduced to an extremely low level.

“The Panel is not persuaded that risk arising from association with criminal peers and consequent indirect involvement in offending is necessarily equally low.”

Lord Elystan-Morgan pointed out that Biggs returned “voluntarily to the jurisdiction.”

Lord Bach replied:

“My Lords, it is right to say that he returned voluntarily—some 36 years after he committed the offence of escaping from Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth.

“Why he returned voluntarily has been a matter of some comment in the media, and I will not repeat it.

“The noble Lord is strictly right that Mr Biggs returned voluntarily, but if he had not escaped he would have finished his sentence a long time ago.”

Lord Elton wanted to know how many prisoners are over the age of 75.

Lord Bach said he did not know the number, “but I will find out and write to the noble Lord.”

“Of course it is important that the right people are in prison at the right time; prisoners can be released if their health is in such a state and they can apply to the Justice Secretary for release on those grounds.

“We are talking about a decision which my right honourable friend took in a quasi-judicial role, having considered all the evidence before him.”

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