Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs has been refused parole for being unrepentant about his crime, making it is almost certain he will die in prison.
The Parole Board, which met earlier this month to discuss Biggs's case, had recommended his release. But the Justice Secretary Jack Straw yesterday announced that he would not grant Biggs his freedom.
The decision is based not on the risk that he will offend again - Biggs has had three strokes, he cannot speak and needs to be fed through a tube - but, in Mr Straw's words, that he is "wholly unrepentant" for his part in the crime which took place 46 years ago.
A statement released by the Justice Secretary said: "Mr Biggs chose to serve only one year of a 30-year sentence before he took the personal decision to commit another offence and escape from prison, avoiding capture by travelling abroad for 35 years while outrageously courting the media. Had he complied with his sentence, he would have been a free man many years ago."
Biggs was eligible for release tomorrow as he will have served 10 years of his 30-year sentence. And, after the Parole Board's recommendation, it was widely expected he would be freed. A care home was found near his son Michael in north London.
Such was the belief that Biggs, 79, would be released, some news outlets yesterday reported that he was to be freed before Mr Straw issued his statement just after 4pm.
He continued: "Biggs chose not to obey the law and respect the punishments given to him - the legal system in this country deserves more respect than this. It was Mr Biggs's own choice to offend and he now appears to want to avoid the consequences of his decision. I do not think this is acceptable. Mr Biggs is wholly unrepentant... and does not regret his offending."
It is understood that Mr Straw made his decision at the start of this week but only signed the letter formally announcing it yesterday.
Biggs, who is still in hospital undergoing treatment for a broken hip he sustained after falling from his hospital bed at the weekend, was told the news by the governor of Norwich Prison.
Biggs's health is said to be so poor that surgeons have been unable to operate on him. His son Michael was unavailable for comment yesterday.
A message on his answering machine said he would not be taking calls for "obvious reasons".
Biggs's legal adviser, Giovanni Di Stefano, attacked the decision as "perverse".
He said: "All the other Great Train Robbers served a third of their sentences, why should Ronnie Biggs be any different? Ten years is enough. This shows a side of the British Government that is perverse n it is a cruel and unusual punishment."
Mr Di Stefano said he was planning to launch a judicial review.
However, the High Court possesses only the power to instruct the Justice Secretary to review his decision. It cannot overturn it. Biggs will be able to apply for parole again in one year.
Biggs was part of a gang of 15 which robbed the Glasgow to London mail train at Ledburn, Buckinghamshire, in August 1963.
They stole a record £2.6m. He was given a 30-year sentence but after 15 months he escaped from Wandsworth prison in south-west London by climbing a 30ft wall.
He was on the run for more than 30 years, living in Spain, Australia and Brazil, before returning to the UK voluntarily in 2001 in search of medical treatment. He was taken to Belmarsh prison before being moved to a specialist medical unit at Norwich prison.
- THE INDEPENDENT