UK

Ronnie Biggs' Funeral: Great Train Robber Buried With Two-Finger Floral Salute

03/01/2014 15:45 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 13:17 GMT

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has managed to live up to his reputation even in death.

When he was last seen in public, at the funeral of robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds, Biggs stuck two fingers up at journalists.

On Friday, as the hearse carrying his coffin passed through the streets of north London, a white floral wreath in the shape of a two-fingered salute was visible alongside a Union flag and the flag of Brazil, the country where he spent many years as a fugitive from British justice.

Story continues after slideshow...

Funeral Of The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs

Well-wishers gathered in the rain to watch the hearse depart. The coffin was surrounded by floral tributes and messages, and adorned with a red ribbon which read 'Ronnie'.

The funeral cortege, with a guard of honour formed by 13 Hell's Angels bikers, left the home of Biggs' son Michael and daughter-in-law Veronica in Barnet, north London, ahead of the service at Golders Green Crematorium, north London.

Michael, who was wearing dark glasses and jeans with a skull and crossbones belt, met with mourners before the cortege set off.

His father, who won worldwide notoriety after escaping prison and living the high life in Rio de Janeiro, died last month at the age of 84.

Ronald Arthur ''Ronnie'' Biggs, who spent more than three decades on the run, had been cared for at Carlton Court Care Home in East Barnet, north London, after suffering several strokes in recent years.

His carers at the home were among those joining the funeral procession today.

Biggs was released from prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to ill health, despite being re-arrested in 2001 upon his return to the UK after evading the authorities since his first escape from Wandsworth Prison in 1965.

At the time of his escape, Biggs had served just 15 months of the 30-year sentence he was handed for his part in the robbery of a Royal Mail freight train between London and Glasgow on August 8, 1963.

After having plastic surgery, he lived as a fugitive for 36 years first in Australia then Brazil, where Michael was born. His son later became the key to him being allowed to stay in the country and not face extradition. Biggs's money eventually ran out and he traded on his notoriety to scrape a living.

Speaking last year, he said he was proud to have been part of the gang behind the robbery, which saw 15 men escape with a record haul of £2.6 million - the equivalent of about £46 million today.

Biggs, who could not speak due to his strokes and communicated through a spelling board, said: ''If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is, 'No'.

''I will go further: I am proud to have been one of them."

He did admit to some regrets, however.

''It is regrettable, as I have said many times, that the train driver was injured,'' he said.

The driver Jack Mills was coshed during the heist, reportedly by Biggs, and never fully recovered from the ordeal, dying a few years later.

Some of Britain's best-known villains paid their respects in person or by sending flowers.

Charles Bronson, one of the country's longest-serving prisoners, sent a bouquet containing an old ten-bob note with the words "Ronnie Biggs RIP" scrawled across it.

Former London gangster and writer Dave Courtney was among the gangland figures gathered at the chapel.

Close friend and writer Chris Pickard, who helped Biggs put together his autobiography Odd Man Out, said: "I am going to remember him as a great friend. He was great fun to be around.

"I knew him in Rio and he was a great host and a very generous man.

"People forget he was involved in just one major incident, one of the iconic crimes of the 20th century.

"He always said he was the best witness to the Great Train Robbery, he played a very minor part in it, but people always link it to him.

"But if he hadn't gone over the prison wall, he wouldn't have been remembered - there were 16 people at the track but it's only people like him, Buster Edwards and Bruce Reynolds that get remembered all these years later.

"Ronnie kept in the news by being on the run for all those years, getting himself kidnapped, it is amazing - he has been in the news virtually every year for the last 50 years and very few people can say that."

Asked about the presence of former gangsters at the funeral, Mr Pickard said: "He probably wouldn't know them - he wasn't involved in that, he was more involved, especially in Brazil, with the arts, music, things like that.

"His friends were from a huge base of artists and musicians, he didn't really have that many friends in the criminal fraternity."

A six-piece Dixie band joined the procession for the final part of the journey to the crematorium.

Leading the hearse and funeral cars, it played songs including When the Saints Go Marching In and When You're Smiling.

The Hell's Angels entered the crematorium in advance to allow the band to be heard.

Biggs's remains were brought into a packed-out chapel as the London Dixieland Jazz Band played slow tunes.

Mourners clapped and touched the coffin, draped in a Union flag and a Brazilian flag, together with a hat and a red-and-white Charlton Athletic scarf, as it went down the aisle.

The Rev Dave Thompson told the chapel: "People have asked me 'How can you take part in the funeral of a Great Train Robber?'.

"What we need to remember is that Jesus didn't hang out with hoity-toity folk, he just treated people as people."