JACK Straw's refusal, as Minister of Justice, to free the 80-year-old “great train robber” Ronnie Biggs from prison defies rational explanation. The only point of any substance made by Mr Straw to justify his decision is that if Biggs had served his initial sentence rather than escaping he would have been a free man by now. But to suggest, as Mr Straw has done in writing, that this frail and sick man might re-offend and incite acts of violence beggars belief, while his references to Biggs' refusal to take any courses to rehabilitate himself while in prison verges on the absurd. Another phrase used by the minister might tell us rather more about his reason for refusing the recommendation of the Parole Board that Biggs should be released -- “After escaping from prison Mr Biggs avoided capture by travelling abroad for 35 years while outrageously courting the media.” It is not difficult to hear in that sentence the still pent-up frustration of the British police and officialdom in failing to bring Biggs back home, and the suppressed fury at some of his cheeky references to Queen Elizabeth. But this is the first time I have heard that “outrageously courting the media” could be considered a reason for refusing release from prison when other grounds argue for it. Ronnie Biggs is a villain, but an old and spent one. The jails are full to overflowing and it costs money to keep him inside. Let him go.


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