Image: Ronnie Biggs
AP file
Ronnie Biggs, shown in this undated photo, was part of a gang that robbed a mail train in August 1963, netting 2.6 million British pounds.
updated 8/7/2009 10:24:52 AM ET 2009-08-07T14:24:52

One of Britain's most notorious criminals has officially been released from prison.

But the family of Ronnie Biggs says the fax which confirmed his freedom won't change much. The so-called "Great Train Robber" will likely stay where he is — in bed, seriously ill.

Britain's Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he was releasing Biggs on compassionate grounds because he is near death. Saturday is Biggs' 80th birthday.

Prison officers watching Biggs at the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital were leaving Friday.

Recorded with Sex Pistols
Biggs was part of a gang that robbed a mail train in an August 1963 heist that netted 2.6 million pounds — worth more than $50 million today. The train driver was hit over the head and left unconscious.

Most of the gang was soon rounded up. Biggs was sentenced to 30 years in jail but escaped from prison in 1965 by climbing over a wall. He fled to Brazil, where he made a living from his notoriety, regaling journalists and tourists with stories of his exploits and even recording with punk band The Sex Pistols.

In 2001, he voluntarily returned to Britain, surrendered to police and was sent back to jail. He was locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison in London on his return before being moved to a specialist medical unit at Norwich prison

Bedridden and 'not expected to improve'
He has suffered a series of strokes and a broken hip, and is being treated for pneumonia. He snow bedridden, fed through a tube, and barely able to communicate.

His lawyers sought to have him released, arguing that his age and severe health problems mean he is no longer a threat.

He became eligible for parole last month after he served a total of 10 years of his 30-year sentence, but Straw overruled a parole board recommendation that Biggs be freed, saying that he was "wholly unrepentant" about his crimes.

Straw said that Biggs' condition changed his mind.

"The medical evidence clearly shows that Mr. Biggs is very ill and that his condition has deteriorated recently, culminating in his readmission to hospital. His condition is not expected to improve," Straw said in a statement. "It is for that reason that I am granting Mr. Biggs compassionate release on medical grounds."

Straw said Biggs must now live at an approved address and cannot travel abroad without approval from British authorities.

More on: Ronnie Biggs

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