GREAT Train robber Bob Welch found out the hard way that there is no honour among thieves.
His greatest coup turned out to be the worst when he was betrayed to police and had his loot stolen by those he trusted.
He claimed he was playing golf on the day of the robbery with two so-called friends, Jimmy “The Dip” Kensit — dad of actress Patsy — and Charles Lilley, but the alibi fell apart when the former denied it to police.
Welch — the last of the surviving train robbers who died age 94 — had been tipped off by a corrupt cop that he was in the frame for the record-breaking 1963 heist.
The robber vanished from London and went to the West Country, where he made plans to travel abroad.
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But on the day he was due to leave the country, Welch was arrested at London Bridge rail station as he met one of his brothers.
Police files strongly suggest Lilly had tipped them off about Welch’s plans to flee before helping himself to the robber’s money.
Welch was jailed for 30 years for his part in the £2.6million robbery — worth £50million today — and was left crippled by a botched operation for a leg injury he sustained in jail.
Friends say Welch, having outlived all his fellow train robbers, remained bitter about the betrayal.
“Bob regretted the day he ever got involved with the train robbery,” said Nick Reynolds, son of ringleader Bruce.
“He felt it ruined his life.”
Arsenal supporter Welch — affectionately nicknamed “Big Bad Bob” by the other robbers — was born in Shoreditch, East London, on March 29, 1929, one of nine children.
At the time of the robbery he lived in Islington, North London, but worked south of the river.
Faked an epileptic fit to distract guards
An inveterate gambler, Welch was a car dealer and also owned a nightclub, the Crown Club in Walworth, but struggled with debts because of his addiction.
He inevitably turned to crime, although had only two convictions before the Great Train Robbery — thanks in part to the bent cop he was paying off.
Welch was jailed in 1958 for dishonestly receiving £2,616 worth of stolen coffee, tea and custard powder, worth well over £50,000 today.
Then, in March 1963, he was fined £200 for selling alcohol outside permitted hours.
He had escaped without charges with the help of corrupt detective Dave Dilley when, in late 1961, hundreds of bottles of stolen wine were found stored in his nightclub.
By then Welch had teamed up with a group of robbers called the South Coast Raiders, who targeted trains on the London to Brighton line.
Among the Raiders were Welch’s fellow future Great Train robbers Tommy Wisbey and Roger Cordrey, as well as Danny Pembroke, one of three bandits to get away with the crime of the last century.
Welch had a reputation for being a heavy, as well as a talented actor.
His speciality of faking epileptic fits distracted the train guards, luring them away as the rest of the gang stole mailbags from the train’s rear.
The Raiders were suspected of holding up a Euston to Holyhead Irish mail train in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, in February 1963.
Soon afterwards they were invited by another team of South West London villains to take part in the Great Train Robbery.
The other gang, led by Bruce Reynolds and Gordon Goody, had an inside agent with intelligence on the transportation of Royal Mail high-value packages, but lacked the expertise for stopping trains.
In the early hours of August 8 that year, the Glasgow to Euston Up Special, carrying millions in used notes from Scotland’s earlier August Bank Holiday, was stopped by the 15-strong gang near Ledburn, Bucks.
The engine and first two carriages were uncoupled from the rest of the train and driver Jack Mills was infamously coshed by one of the gang after their own retired driver was unable to move the locomotive.
It was driven to Bridego Bridge, where Welch was one of a team of South Coast raiders who attacked the high-value packages carriage from the east side of the track, smashing windows and terrorising sorters.
Disguised as soldiers and in military vehicles, the gang went to their hideout at Leatherslade Farm, at Brill, Bucks, 27 miles away.
But within hours of the robbery an informant told Scotland Yard Welch was one of the robbers, stating he wasn’t at home and had told his wife he had gone away for several days.
He was on an unerringly accurate list of suspects drawn up by the Yard’s C11 intelligence section within two days of the heist.
Welch’s fate was sealed when an associate of the robbers failed to burn down their hideout, which yielded an Aladdin’s Cave of forensic clues.
His right and left hand palm prints were found on a can of beer.
Thanks to the corrupt Dilley, who later became a commander in the Met’s intelligence section, Welch got wind that he was about to be arrested and disappeared.
He initially stayed at two hotels in Cornwall before going to stay at the isolated Beaford House Hotel in North Devon, where he was joined by Pembroke and three other men, one of whom was the dapper Charles Lilley.
Scotland Yard became aware of their presence at the hotel — but “Scourge of the Robbers” Tommy Butler ordered his officers to wait before moving in, just in case any other wanted men turned up.
A tap was put on the hotel line, revealing two calls to Whitehall 1212 — Scotland Yard’s number.
Either Welch was calling his bent contact, or Lilley was keeping his handler informed.
The men told villagers they were holidaymakers.
They were seen frequently fishing and shooting in woodland, where Welch and Pembroke are believed to have buried their money.
They spent evenings at the Globe Inn pub, freely spending £5 notes and buying drinks for locals, who were left agog at their generosity.
The Harvest Festival at Beaford Church enjoyed a particularly good year when Welch, Pembroke and Lilley bid top prices against each other at an auction to raise funds.
The church vicar was even invited by the men to join in a card game and they conspired to lose against him for charity.
The reverend later told police he knew the men were “not honest” but has decided that “the church should keep the money”.
He was turned over by another informant
Flying Squad commander Ernie Millen noted in a report that the public had been asked to look out for anyone with “ample monetary resources, especially in £5 denominations”.
But he added: “The suspicions of the local residents were apparently lulled by their belief that the men were bookmakers from London visiting Devon for a quiet holiday.”
Welch eventually caught a train back to London on October 25 to see his brother before heading abroad. Police were waiting for him.
Under arrest, he claimed he had been with Lilley and pickpocket Jimmy Kensit on the morning of the robbery.
But Kensit — later revealed as a “snitch” by former gangland enforcer Fred Foreman — refused to back up Welch’s alibi.
Lilley, however, gave a statement for Welch, who was charged with conspiracy to rob and armed robbery.
At their trial in 1964, Welch and others claimed they had innocently gone to Leatherslade Farm two nights after the robbery with an associate known as Dark Ronnie, delivering fruit and vegetables.
Welch was one of nine men convicted, with three more later nailed.
Lilley took the opportunity of Welch’s incarceration to make frequent visits to Beaford over the next two years and was observed by locals going into the woods.
Lilley was arrested and questioned about receiving train robbery money but never charged.
Welch, meanwhile, suffered in jail after a botched operation on his right leg, which was eventually amputated.
After Welch was released in 1976, he is said to have confronted Lilley about his money, though it is unclear if he managed to retrieve any of it.
Lilley became a jeweller and later went off the radar.
Welch came to police notice again two years later when he was turned over by another informant, Billy “The Snake” Amies.
The supergrass claimed Welch bought a ring and three diamonds from him which he had stolen during a violent robbery at a pensioner’s home in Preston.
In December 1979 an Old Bailey jury acquitted him in just 29 minutes. Welch said afterwards: “Waiting for that verdict was worse than waiting the three days for the Great Train Robbery result.”
He kept a low profile for the rest of his life, attending reunions and funerals for his robbery accomplices and is said to have sold cars and still enjoyed a flutter.
Welch was last seen in public at Tommy Wisbey’s funeral in 2016, in a wheelchair.
Friends say he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease over the last few years and was nursed at his red-brick terraced home in South East London by loyal wife Jean, 85, and son Peter, 60.
Nick Reynolds said: “Bob was fed up with the train robbery. So much so that he told me a book he’d written about it was destined for the bonfire and wouldn’t be published.
“He believed it was the worst mistake of his life.”
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/24627522/inside-life-bob-welch-great-train-robbery/ Inside chaotic life of last Train Robber Bob Welch who had loot stolen and was grassed up by dad of famous Brit actress