Violent robbers have revelled in celebrity
The Great Train Robbery ITV1
THE Great Train Robbery of 1963 was, revealed ITV1's examination of the infamous raid, 'the first time in 125 years that anyone had robbed a travelling post office'.
The previous victim was a cycling Dorcas in Lark Rise To Candleford.
Far from pandering to the romantic notion of modern day highwaymen conducting an enterprise that wouldn't have looked out of place in an episode of Robin Hood, this documentary was rather more blunt – like the weapon which, some claim, sent Crewe train driver Jack Mills to an early grave.
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Mills, aged 58, of Crewe, was at the footplate of the loco as it was brought to a halt by the gang in Buckinghamshire.
As they swarmed into his cab, he suffered several deep lacerations. He was in hospital for 14 days, and, according to the family who buried him seven years later, was never the same again.
The train robbers are happy to talk about the robbery and revel in its celebrity, yet when it comes to who coshed Mills they've got collective amnesia.
Ringleader Bruce Reynolds described it as 'a mistake that should never have happened', but the evidence is against him.
As author Nick Russell-Pavier, who has studied the robbery in detail, says: "It's been isolated as if it was the only bit of violence on the raid.
"Actually every single guy who came into contact with the criminals was hit with something at some stage.
"If that was your brother on the train, or your husband," he asked, "would you think these guys were cool? I don't think you would."
Former Flying Squad officer John O'Connor was even more dismissive of the robbers' claims that it was meant to be a non-violent crime.
"Would they have gone even further?" he pondered of Mills' attempts to thwart their plan. "Would they have killed him on the spot? They might have done.
"I don't think it makes any difference whether they killed him on the spot or he died later," he added, "they still whacked him in a very vicious way. He was a man who was approaching old age – it was a violent and unnecessary thing to do."
The judge at the robbers' trial agreed. "Clear out of the way any romantic notions of daredevilry," he said, "this is nothing less than a sordid crime of violence inspired by vast greed."
The robbers, thankfully, made several errors, not least in their choice of hideout.
"The idea," said one rural officer, "that you go into the countryside and nobody notices you is a townie's mistake." It's why I only take naturist holidays in London.