Magazine article The Spectator

Biggs Deal

Magazine article The Spectator

Biggs Deal

Article excerpt

Like the plodding Russian bear, the Metropolitan Police force has finally got its man. Ronald Arthur Biggs is back behind bars after what sharp arithmeticians tell us is 13,068 days on the run. As a measure of just how much time has passed since he was sprung from Wandsworth prison, the great train robber, who has suffered three strokes, is said to have given himself up because he craves an NHS bed.

Whether Her Majesty's pleasure is made all the sweeter for the delay in bringing Biggs back to justice is doubtful. Her Majesty, who in any case has been preoccupied with entertaining another high-profile guest this week, of course keeps these things close to her chest. But the public reaction to Biggs's return can scarcely be said to have been one of rejoicing.

The cruel have begrudged him medical attention on the grounds that there are more deserving pensioners on NHS waiting-lists. Others have expressed disgust that the event has turned into a publicity stunt for the Sun.

An even more widespread concern is whether our human-rights-driven legal system will permit Biggs to be detained for long. Recent history suggests that the courts have a sympathetic approach towards shambling old men, or anyone who can pull off a convincing impersonation of one. Already, a team of lawyers is reported to be preparing a case for release on compassionate grounds. Those who find themselves unable to settle in their beds until reassured that Biggs is receiving punishment are more likely to find satisfaction in the emergency regulations relating to foot-and-mouth disease than in the sentence for robbery handed out at the Buckingham assizes in 1964: it would not be out of character with our topsy-turvy legal system if Biggs, who has expressed a desire to undertake one last walk in the English countryside, were to be freed only to be re-arrested and fined L5,000 for using a closed footpath.

That said, it is tempting for once to agree with the aims of the human-rights lawyers, if not with their reasoning. It is pointless to make a sick 72-year-old man serve out a 28-- year sentence. The fantasy that a 100-year-- old Biggs, long white beard trailing between the prison bars, will still be alive and compos mentis to understand his error belongs to a Bateman cartoon. Incarceration of Biggs merely ensures the maximum public expenditure for the minimum public reward.

It is astounding how much money is spent by the arms of justice on pure theatre without any regard to whether public interest is best being served. …

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