The Great Train Robbery of 1963 was arguably the most famous heist in British history. Five career criminals, led by antiques dealer Bruce Reynolds, learned through a mysterious informant – who has never been identified – about the schedule of a Post Office mail train that regularly carried large sums of cash from Glasgow to London’s Euston station.
After several months of planning, and the recruitment of accomplices, they carried out their plot in the early hours of 8 August.
The gang tampered with a railway signal, forcing the train to stop. They then took control of the train, assaulting the driver, who died a few years afterwards. After uncoupling the engine and the carriage containing the money, they drove the train to a prearranged meeting place and loaded the money onto a truck.
While some of the cash was overlooked, they got away with £2.6m in cash, equivalent to £46.1m in 2013’s money.
The size of the theft and rumours that the crooks had inside help led to huge amounts of press coverage. The breakthrough came when the police discovered the gang’s hideout, where they found a Monopoly board and ketchup bottle covered with fingerprints. Eleven gang members were arrested and convicted, with seven being given 30-year sentences, but in most cases these were eventually reduced to ten years or less.
The costs of legal fees, or life on the run, would ensure that most of them would end up penniless. Indeed, Ronnie Biggs returned to Britain in 2001 after escaping from jail in 1965 because he couldn’t afford medical care in Brazil.