'Great Train Robber' and British folk hero Ronnie Biggs dies aged 84

Ronnie Biggs, one of the British criminal gang known as "The Great Train Robbers," died aged 84. Getty Images, file

LONDON - Notorious criminal Ronnie Biggs, who played a role in Britain's "Great Train Robbery" of 1963 and escaped jail to spend decades on the run in South America, died Wednesday. He was 84.

Biggs was one of a gang that staged a heist on a night mail train almost exactly 50 years ago and made off with a haul of $4.2 million – equivalent to about $64 million today.

The gang halted the train by altering the wiring to a signal and carried the cash down an embankment to a waiting van. They were later caught and convicted when their fingerprints were found on a board game they had played while hiding at an abandoned house.

Biggs’ folk hero status was confirmed when he subsequently escaped from London’s Wandsworth Prison by scaling a wall with a rope ladder before fleeing abroad - eventually settling in Brazil, from where he could not be extradited.

He spent 36 years on the run and even recorded a song called "No One is Innocent" with the Sex Pistols.

He eventually surrendered to British authorities in 2001 but spent only a few years in jail before being released due to ill health. 

Biggs' spokeswoman said he died early Wednesday at a nursing home in north London, according to Reuters and the BBC.

Nick Russell-Pavier, author of The Great Train Robbery: Crime of The Century, told ITV News that Biggs’ crime had "an extraordinary romanticism to it."

Biggs, seen here promoting a book in 1994, lived as a fugitive for 36 years after his escape from jail. AFP - Getty Images, file

He said: "The press loved it and so did the public. The idea of the working-class hero was very potent in the '60s."

But Biggs' fame divided opinion due to his gang's attack on train driver Jack Mills, who was struck over the head during the robbery. Mills died seven years later and many people believed the injuries he sustained during the heist contributed to his death.

But Biggs always maintained he never regretted his role in the robbery.

"It has given me a little place in history," he said in one interview. "I made good in a curious way I suppose. I became infamous. If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is, 'No'."

Reuters contributed to this report.