Ronnie Biggs, the notorious criminal known in Britain as the "Great Train Robber," became a free man Friday when three prison guards slipped away from his hospital bedside.

The lifting of the round-the-clock watch will occured minutes after officials in the Ministry of Justice signed an order releasing him from custody.

For the first time since September 1963 Biggs will officially be a free man. In reality, life will hardly change for the sick, semi-comatose old man who cannot walk or talk and is fed through a tube. He will remain in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where he is hanging on to life after suffering a bout of severe pneumonia.

Biggs, who had 26 previous convictions, is a man much diminished from the South London villain who with a gang of 15 criminals stole £2.6 million — $67 million in today’s money — in used banknotes from the Glasgow-to-London mail train in 1963. The train driver, Jack Mills, was coshed over the head, never worked again and died some years later of an unrelated illness. The courts took a dim view and handed Biggs and the other leading figures in the gang 30-year jail terms.

But within 16 months Biggs had escaped from Wandsworth jail and began a 36-year odyssey that he spent, in the words of Britain's Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, “outrageously courting the media.”

Biggs fled to Paris and then to Australia, where the authorities tracked him down — but before they could get the handcuffs on him Biggs disappeared and went to Brazil.

Click here for more on this story from the Times of London.