The crime of the century

IT WAS the crime of the century - the biggest heist ever, and the raid which put Aylesbury Vale in the headlines 44 years ago.

The Great Train Robbery took place on Thursday August 8, 1963, at Sears Crossing, near Cheddington, and the gang walked off with 2.6million.

Two London gangster firms were involved in the robbery, and used simple methods to pull off the theft from the Glasgow to London night-mail 'Up Special' express train.

After being tipped off that the post train would be carrying up to 6million in used notes, the gang hatched a plan, and laid low at Leatherslade Farm, between Brill and Oakley, until dawn on the Thursday.

The legend goes that Roger Cordrey stuffed his glove over a green signal at Bridego Bridge, powering the red light below with a battery, bringing the train to a halt at about 3am.

Train driver Jack Mills was forced to shunt his own train into a siding after being coshed, after the gang's own driver proved useless.

Then the robbers unloaded 120 sacks of bank notes into waiting vehicles, and told Mr Mills and fireman David Whitby to lie face down on the embankment, and not move for 30 minutes.

The latter clue convinced police the gang were hiding in the area.

After half an hour the train's guard caught a slow train to Cheddington station, where he raised the alarm.

Before the alarm was raised by herdsman John Maris who noticed suspicious activities at Leatherslade Farm, they had scarpered.

According to accounts at the time, Ronnie Biggs had been left to burn the place, but he had been spooked by a man with a dog in the next field at the same time an aeroplane flew over, so he escaped.

The gang were picked off by clues they had left behind at the farm, including a Monopoly board game, and on January 20, 1964, the first trial was held at the old Rural District Council chamber in Walton Road, Aylesbury.

Ronnie Biggs, Tommy Wisbey, Charlie Wilson, Roy 'The Weasel' James, John Daly, Bob Welch, Gordon Goody, Leonard Field, Brian Field, Roger Cordrey, William Boal, and John Wheater, all pleaded not guilty in the specially-constructed dock.

Daly was released on a lack of evidence, Biggs had a retrial after a policeman revealed he had a criminal record, but on March 23 the jury went off to spend 66 hours mulling over the evidence at the Grange Youth Centre in Wendover Way.

The rest of the gang were found guilty, and sentenced in mid-April.

Wheater, boss of Brian Field, the buyer of Leatherslade Farm, got three years, while Cordrey got 20 years, William Boal 24 years, Brian Field and Leonard Field 25 years.

The rest got 30 years apiece, and Buster Edwards, Bruce Reynolds and Jimmy White were still at large.

Biggs escaped jail in July 1965, moving to Spain, Australia and Brazil, before being recaptured on his return to England in 2001 an ill man.

Edwards gave himself up after escaping to Mexico for three years, while Charlie Wilson escaped from prison, and was recaptured in 1968.

Bruce Reynolds was arrested in 1968, and went to prison until 1978.