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Last orders for Ronald Biggs

Ronald Biggs has been released, then, Jack Straw having decided he could now be released on compassionate grounds, rather than on parole, which he earlier refused. Straw’s statement explains the new decision in terms of the different criteria he had to take account of in relation to the two issues.

The statement also makes clear Biggs has been released on licence. The power to release is under section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, while the standard licence conditions are contained in the Criminal Justice (Sentencing)(Licence Conditions) Order 2005. Straw’s statement makes clear no further conditions have been imposed. It’s interesting to note that, although the standard conditions restrict his movements in the sense that he must reside at an address approved by the Probation Service (Norwich University Hospital, presumably) and can’t stay overnight anywhere else or travel outside the UK without permission, nothing in law prevents him leaving the hospital grounds for the day. Presumably his condition prevents him in practical terms from leaving his hospital bed. We’ll see.

So, Biggs tastes his last draught of freedom after all. I suppose if the only practical difference this makes is that prison guards leave Biggs’s bedside for his dying moments, then even I am reasonably content. It’s true Biggs is far from the Yorkshire Ripper category of offender, and I know some argue, like Nick Cohen, that Biggs has always been treated unfairly and that his escape and lack of remorse for it should not be held against him.

Still, my feeling is that for the law to be respected it must be inexorable: I’d have made Biggs repay every moment of his Latin American debt of time, even if (since he’s in a hospital, not in prison) only symbolically. Perhaps I’m the only one who’d have applauded Jack Straw had he taken that hard line.

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  1. Carl

    You are not the only one who would have applauded Straw for taking that line. The diamond-geezer-celebrity-villain line played by Biggs and his advocates over the years is not one which should be pandered to.

    Biggs is a ruthless and cynical man who fled justice when it suited him and only returned when it suited him, not out of repentance but in search of taxpayer-funded medical treatment which he wasn’t going to get elsewhere.

    I imagine that Straw’s reversal of his earlier position reflected a significant change in the prisoner’s condition, making it appropriate to reweigh the balance of interests in the ‘compassionate grounds’ argument. If that is the case, it might to advantage have been communicated more thoroughly, as the unfortunate, and probably inaccurate, impression may have been gained in some quarters that it was a change of underlying sentiment to an unchanged case. That is unfortunate because it plays to the meme of “plucky campaigners win the argument against uncaring bureaucracy”, casting Biggs in the underserved position of underdog winning through.

  2. He’s lucky I wasn’t on the case. I’d have sent him back to Brazil saying “If you can’t take a joke…

    Still, if it’s a kind of resolution you want, Carl, consider in the following:

    The MacMillan government was in its death-throes at the time and was only too grateful to point at somebody else caught up to no good. The robbery was media relief for them and they played the tough line for all they were worth.

    The person who acutally coshed Jack Mills was allegedly Buster Edwards, who made a confession of sorts. He was never prosecuted – I would like to see the police papers if they are ever available – but there there is a smidgen of doubt in my mind about Edwards’ culpability. He was an adrenalin junkie and tended to dramatize things. It is possible that it wasn’t him.

    If it was, he paid a tolerable price in that although he only served 9 years (of the 15 sentenced) and was released around 197, he never settled to life as running a flower stall in Waterloo station. Despite the flattering air-brushing of the 1988 film “Buster” which portrayed him as a sentimental rogue rather than a thug, he ended up drinking like a fish, having mental health problems and eventually hanged himself in 1994. The coroner was very thorough; there doesn’t seem to have been anyone else involved.

    In the last few days we can afford for everyone to die in their own beds on a diamorphine syringe. They are just as much in prison as they ever were and are arguably already beyond the law’s reach when the shunt goes in.

    However, I’d have probably found an excuse to move him to a hospital earlier precisely to stop him becoming a perverse martyrdom figure. Just a political perspective; nothing moral about it.

  3. Woman on a Raft:
    Interesting that below your comment appears to be attributing Swiss Bob’s posting over on The Daily Politics to you, rather than him. I haven’t noticed that tool in action before so am not sure how it is supposed to work.

  4. It puts the URL on the name, then nips over and picks up which ever is the latest post. Smart. On a single author blog, that’s a generous extra link from Head of Legal (thank you kindly, Guv’nor). However, on multi-author blog it will fill in whose post is on the top of the pile.

    Buster Edwards was released in 1974, although some sources state 1975. Definitely not 197, though.


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