Great Train Robbery (1963)
Mentmore Bridge (previously known as Bridego Bridge and then Train Robbers' bridge), scene of the robbery
|Date||8 August 1963|
|Location||Bridego Railway Bridge, |
|Also known as||Cheddington Mail Van Raid|
|Outcome||Theft of £2.6 million (the equivalent of £50 million today)|
|Charges||Conspiracy to rob, armed robbery, obstructing justice and receiving stolen goods|
|Convictions||11 men sentenced (Bill Boal and Lennie Field later exonerated) to terms up to 30 years|
The Great Train Robbery was the
After having tampered with the lineside signals in order to bring the train to a halt, a 15-strong gang of robbers led by
With careful planning based on inside information from an individual known as "The Ulsterman" (named as Patrick McKenna in 2014), the robbers escaped with over £2.6 million (equivalent to £50 million today). The bulk of the stolen money was never recovered. Though the gang did not use any firearms,
After the robbery, the gang hid at Leatherslade Farm. After the police found this hideout, incriminating evidence led to the eventual arrest and conviction of most of the gang. The ringleaders were sentenced to 30 years in jail.
This section needs additional citations for
The plan to intercept and rob the overnight Glasgow-to-London mail train was based on information from Patrick McKenna, a
The raid was devised over a period of months by a core team: Goody and Edwards along with
So it was agreed to enlist the help of another London gang called The South Coast Raiders. This group included Tommy Wisbey, Bob Welch, and Jim Hussey, who were already accomplished train robbers[
Other associates (including Ronnie Biggs, a man Reynolds had previously met in jail) were added as the organisation evolved. The final gang who took part in the raid comprised a total of 16 men.
At 18:50 on Wednesday 7 August 1963, the
Mail was loaded onto the train at Glasgow and also during station stops en route, and from line-side collection points where local post office staff would hang mail sacks on elevated track-side hooks that were caught by nets deployed by the on-board staff. Sorted mail on the train could be dropped off at the same time. This process of exchange allowed mail to be distributed locally without delaying the train with unnecessary stops. One of the carriages involved in the robbery is preserved at the
The second carriage behind the engine was known as the HVP (high value packages) coach, which carried large quantities of money and registered mail for sorting. Usually the value of the shipment was in the region of £300,000, but because the previous weekend had been a UK
In 1960, the Post Office Investigation Branch (IB) recommended the fitting of alarms to all Travelling Post Offices with HVP carriages. This recommendation was implemented in 1961, but HVP carriages without alarms were retained in reserve. By August 1963, three HVP carriages were equipped with alarms, bars over the windows and bolts and catches on the doors, but at the time of the robbery, these carriages were out of service, so a reserve carriage (M30204M) without those features had to be used. The fitting of radios was also considered, but they were deemed to be too expensive, and the measure was not implemented. This carriage was kept for evidence for seven years following the event and then burned at a scrapyard in Norfolk in the presence of police and post office officials to deter any souvenir hunters.
Just after 03:00 on 8 August, the driver, 58-year old
At this stage, the robbers had foreseen that they would encounter a problem. They had to move the train from where it had been stopped to a suitable place to load their ex-army dropside truck with the stolen money. Bridge No.127 (Bridego Bridge, now known as Mentmore Bridge), approximately half a mile (800 m) further along the track was the chosen location.
One of the robbers (masquerading as a school teacher) had spent months befriending railway staff and familiarising himself with the layout and operation of trains and carriages. Ultimately though, it was decided that it would be better to use an experienced train driver to move the locomotive and the first two carriages from the signals to the bridge after uncoupling the carriages containing the rest of the sorters and the ordinary mail.
On the night, the gang's hired train driver (an acquaintance of Ronnie Biggs, later referred to as "
Stan Agate" or "Peter") was unable to operate this newer type of locomotive; although having driven trains for many years (by then retired), he was experienced only on shunting (switching) locomotives on the
The train was stopped at bridego bridge, and the robbers' "assault force" attacked the ‘high value packages’ (HVP) carriage.
Frank Dewhurst was in charge of the three other postal workers (Leslie Penn, Joseph Ware and John O'Connor) in the HVP carriage. Thomas Kett, assistant inspector in charge of the train from
The robbers removed all but eight of the 128 sacks from the HVP carriage, which they transferred in about 15–20 minutes to the waiting truck by forming a human chain. The gang departed some 30 minutes after the robbery had begun in their
The gang then headed along minor roads listening for police broadcasts on a
At the farm they counted the proceeds and divided it into 16 full shares and several 'drinks' (smaller sums of money intended for associates of the gang). The precise amounts of the split differ according to the source, but the full shares came to approximately £150,000 each (about £2.65 million today).
From listening to their police-tuned radio, the gang learned that the police had calculated they had gone to ground within a 30-mile radius of the crime scene rather than dispersing with their haul. This declaration was based on information given by a witness at the crime scene who stated that a gang member had told the post office workers "not to move for half an hour". The press interpreted this information as a 30-mile (48 km) radius—a half-hour drive in a fast car.
The gang realised the police were using a "dragnet tactic", and with help from the public, would probably discover the farm much sooner than had been originally anticipated. As a result, the plan for leaving the farm was brought forward to Friday from Sunday (the crime was committed on Thursday). The vehicles they had driven to the farm could no longer be used because they had been seen by the train staff.
Field had arranged with "Mark" to carry out a comprehensive clean-up and set fire to the farm after the robbers had left, even though the robbers had already spent much time wiping the place down to be free of prints. According to Buster Edwards, he 'nicked' £10,000 in
There is some uncertainty regarding the exact cash total stolen from the train. £2,631,684 is a figure quoted in the press, although the police investigation states the theft as £2,595,997 10s, in 636 packages, contained in 120 mailbags—the bulk of the haul in £1 and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note, which was half its size). There were also ten-shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money. Because a 30-minute time limit had been set by Reynolds, eight out of 128 bags were not stolen and were left behind. Statistically, this could have amounted to £131,000 or 4.7% of the total. It is alleged that the total weight of the bags removed was 2.5 long tons (2.5 t), according to former Buckinghamshire police officer John Woolley.
Famously, the gang had used the money in a game of
The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the rail-men left on the train at Sears Crossing caught a passing goods train to Cheddington, where he raised the alarm at around 04:20. The first reports of the robbery were broadcast on the VHF police radio within a few minutes and this is where the gang heard the line "A robbery has been committed and you'll never believe it – they've stolen the train!"