Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Big One: Ronald Biggs and the Great Train Robbery

The Trial

Following the aborted escape, the members of the gang were kept under close observation which lasted through Christmas 1963 until their trial began on January 20, 1964  As the robbery had taken place in Buckinghamshire, they were transported to Aylesbury courthouse to appear before Justice Edmund Davies who had a reputation for tough sentencing, especially when dealing with career criminals.  Before the trial had even opened it was discovered that the small district courtroom was far too small to house the proceedings so the local council chambers was converted for the purpose.

The prosecution opened their case by calling several bank officials to give evidence as to the amount of money carried and allegedly stolen.  According to Biggs, the venue was cramped and hot causing members of the jury and even his own defense attorney to doze off during testimony, a fact that quickly influenced Biggs to change lawyers.

The proceedings were slow and arduous until Jack Mills, the train driver, took the stand.  Still recovering from the effects of his head injury, Mills told his story in complete detail giving special emphasis to the injuries he had sustained at the hands of the robbers.   His evidence was compelling and had a sobering affect on both judge and jury. 

On the 14th day of the trial Biggs had his first stroke of luck when a police inspector inadvertently gave evidence suggesting that Biggs had previously spent time in jail thereby, under British law, making it difficult for the jury to make an impartial verdict.  After a brief conference between all parties concerned, Judge Davies called a halt to proceedings and ordered that Biggs be removed from the court and returned to prison pending a retrial.

In February the prosecution rested their case and the defense began in earnest.  With so many accused, the presentation of their evidence including the testimonies of the supporting witnesses took some time so it wasnt until March when John Daly got the break of his life.  Originally implicated after his fingerprints were recovered from a Monopoly set found at the farm, Daly had toyed with the idea of pleading guilty and throwing himself on the mercy of the court.  Therefore no one was more surprised than him when his lawyer made a submission to the court that the monopoly set could have had his fingerprints on it before it was taken to the farm.  The jury agreed and Daly was acquitted.

On March 10, while Daly enjoyed his new found freedom, the trial drew to an end as closing speeches began.  Four days later they were over to be followed by six days of summing up by Judge Davies.

On March 23, 1964, the jury retired for two days to consider their verdicts and found all the accused guilty of conspiracy to rob while Tom Wisbey, Roy James, Charlie Wilson, Bob Welch, Jim Hussey and Gordon Goody were all found guilty of robbery with violence.  According to the Biggs account, Bill Boal, a gang associate was also convicted even though he had played no part in the robbery.

Sentencing was delayed until after Biggs retrial which was set down for April 8.

Any thoughts that a new trial in front of a different jury would give him an advantage were quickly dispelled when Biggs entered court.  The new trial was short and sweet.  The prosecution presented its case against him, his defense countered with their evidence, Judge Davies summed up and just seven days later it was all over.  The verdict guilty on both counts.

Sentencing was set down for the following day so with the convicted felons assembled before him Justice Davies called them forward one by one and passed the following sentences:

  • Roger John Cordrey 20 years
  • William Gerald Boal 24 years
  • Charles Frederick Wilson 30 years
  • Brian Arthur Field 25 years
  • Roy John James 30 years
  • Thomas William Wisbey 30 years
  • Robert Alfred Welch 30 years
  • James Hussey 30 years
  • Douglas Gordon Goody 30 years
  • Leonard Dennis Field 25 years
  • Ronald Arthur Biggs 30 years

John Wheater, Reynolds solicitor friend who arranged the fake purchase of Leatherslade Farm was also convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

While most of the accused would later appeal against the severity of their sentences and be refused, Roger Cordrey and Bill Boal were able to have their sentences reduced to fourteen years a piece while Brian Field and Leonard Field (no relation) each had their sentences reduced to just five years.

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