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From the archive, 17 April 1964: Mail train robbery: grave punishment for a grave crime - April-17-12
Source: The Guardian - Crime
The curtain came down on what may be the last act of the Great Train Robbery yesterday with a figure almost as startling as the £2,517,975 that was stolen.
The figure - 307 years imprisonment that 12 convicted men are today beginning to serve in prisons throughout Britain.
In just 32 quiet minutes yesterday, Mr Justice Edmund Davies passed the sentences, seven of them of 30 years - the second longest in modern British criminal history. Speaking solemnly from carefully written notes, the judge told one of the criminals that he proposed to do all in his power to ensure that the mail robbery would be the last of its kind.
Each of the 12 men, who were led into the dock one by one, remained impassive as the individual sentences were given. One bowed low to the judge, another said: "Thank you, your honour," and a third winked quickly at the public gallery as he was led back to the cells.
Only once was the calm of the courtroom broken. The moment came as Leonard Dennis Field - "A dangerous man" - was sentenced to 25 years. From Field's mother on the public gallery came a cry: "I am his old mother. He's innocent. They are liars. Justice has not been done."
The settling for the sentences was one that an American producer would have built for a film about a British trial: a courtroom built in the days when sheep stealers were hanged outside, 200 years ago. The judge's robes made the only splash of colour against the peeling, cream walls and the age-darkened wood of the Aylesbury courtroom. Spectators, who began queuing in the rain nearly four hours before the court began, looked down from a narrow gallery, its rail punctuated with spikes.
Justice was punctual. Immediately the proceedings began the first of the 12, Roger John Cordrey, took the narrow stairs into the dock. He looked straight ahead at the George II coat of arms and the pegs behind the judge's bench on which wigs were once hung.
There was the first and only gasp of the trial from the gallery and a muttered: "Oh Lord."
The judge told one of them, Douglas Gordon Goody, that during the trial he had noted signs that he was capable of inspiring the admiration of the other accused. The prosecution had said that it did not consider the robbery was the product of a master mind, but the judge added:
The last to enter the dock was the solicitor, John Denby Wheater - the man whose case was "the saddest and most difficult of all," the man whose conviction had been a personal and professional disaster. For Wheater, guilty only of conspiring to conceal the identity of the buyer of Leatherside Farm, the raiders' hideout, the sentence was three years.
"I'm half sorry really," said one woman. "We were beginning to feel they belonged to the town."
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