I can’t say I have any strong views on whether Ronnie Biggs should be released from prison. Yes it may seem harsh to refuse him parole given the parlous state of his health, but he refuses to show any remorse for his crime, a normal condition for parole, and if he had stayed and served his time to start with instead of doing a runner to Brazil he would be free by now anyway.
So one can understand to an extent why Jack Straw was not inclined to be lenient towards an old man with failing health. However, as Duncan Campbell points out in today’s Guardian, he hasn’t always been so unsympathetic
A frail old man, barely able to communicate, guilty of a crime committed many decades earlier, but unrepentant about his past, wants only to be released so that he can spend his final days with his family. Some people object, saying that the nature of the crime is such that the old man deserves to die in custody. Enter Jack Straw, the member of the government who must make the onerous decision on the old man’s future. He realises that the old man is barely able to walk and is in a confused state of mind. He allows him to return home.
The old man was General Pinochet. In 2000, the then home secretary Jack Straw declined requests from Spain for Pinochet to stand trial for gross human rights violations and sent him back to Chile. Pinochet was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people, the torture of many thousands more, the removal of a democratically elected president and the looting of the national coffers. Straw still felt that mercy was appropriate.