An author who spent his teenage years in Driffield is auctioning off a very special collection of Ronnie Biggs memorabilia - built up over years of friendship with the great train robber.
Mike Gray, 56, who now lives in Rainham, Kent is auctioning off an impressive variety of items documenting his relationship with ‘Uncle Ron’ which spanned five decades.
Mr Gray visited Biggs in HMP Belmarsh and HMP Norwich every single month for eight years, following the train robber’s return to the UK in May 2001 until his release on 8 August 2009 - Mr Biggs’ 80th birthday and the anniversary of The Great Train Robbery.
The author’s fascination with Biggs began when he was just nine years old - his father worked as prison office at Wandsworth Prison and on the day in which Biggs escaped in July 1965 Mr Gray remembers seeing a red removal van alongside the prison’s towering walls whilst waiting for his father - a moment, Mr Gray believes occurred just minutes before Britain’s most famous escapee scaled the walls of Wandsworth Prison on a rope ladder, jumped onto the van’s roof and made his getaway in a car to begin 36 years on the run.
Mr Gray said: “I did a project on him at school and realised the van was the one Ronnie Biggs used to escape, then it became a bit of an obsession really.
“About 25 years later I managed to come across somebody who knew his new address in Brazil and I wrote to him explaining our connection. When he came back to the UK in 2001 I started visiting him in prison.”
Mr Gray has since written four books about Biggs’ life both inside and outside of prison.
He said: “He was never a bad person. His criminal CV was laughable before the train robbery and none of the train robbers wanted him on the robbery as they had never heard of him.
“By Ronnie’s own admission he was the tea boy who became the legend, through no fault of his own.”
Mr Gray is now auctioning his huge collection of personal items relating to Biggs at Waterman’s Auction House in Dartford, Kent, claiming to have gotten closure on the friendship following the robber’s funeral in January.
The author said: “I have decided to sell all my Great Train Robbery and Ronnie Biggs collection - after the funeral I had personal closure and seeing his coffin begin its journey into a new life and everlasting eternity.
“I still have regular contact with his first wife Charmian, who still lives in Melbourne, Australia, and she did not travel to Ronnie’s funeral due to ill health, so I compiled a photograph album of 75 photographs from the day, and was going to post it to her, but she said not too, as she has her own special thoughts of Ronnie, therefore I have included the album in the auction.
“I also have a personal collection of Ronnie’s private letters, newspapers and clothes and I’m planning on selling those as well, after the funeral I really did have a sense of closure.”
Memorabilia from the exceptional friendship went under the hammer for the first time on Friday 11 July but unfortunately had no bidders - Mr Gray, who branded Biggs’ funeral ‘a media circus’ is hoping he will have more success in coming weeks when the lot is set to be auctioned again on Friday 25 July.