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Regional journalist who landed train robbers scoop dies aged 96

Frank RoebuckA regional daily reporter who scooped the nationals to a story about the Great Train Robbers has died aged 96.

Tributes have been paid to Frank Roebuck, left, a former journalist with Newcastle-based dailies The Chronicle and The Journal who discovered that the gang behind the notorious crime were being transferred from Durham Prison to a jail on the Isle of Wight.

On 4 February 1966 the Chief Constable of County Durham had denied to a mass of reporters that the transfer was happening, but Frank had been tipped off by an anonymous source and was filing his scoop eslewhere as the public denial was made.

After Frank’s scoop, published that afternoon, the Home Office was forced to confirm their transfer to a different prison was taking place.

The gang had hijacked a Royal Mail train two-and-a-half years earlier and much of the £2.6m they stole – nearly £50m in today’s money – was never recovered.

Frank had previously broken the story about the robbers being in Durham’s maximum security block, as well as the fact that the army played a part in tightening up defences there.

His granddaughter Helen Deacon told The Chronicle: “Letters from the editor at the time congratulated him for keeping and giving the story to The Chronicle and beating the nationals.”

Frank had joined the Newcastle titles in 1957, and was working in London at the time of his train robbers scoop, having transferred to the role of parliamentary correspondent from his job as chief reporter in papers’ Durham district office.

Born in Earlestown, Lancashire, Frank served as a glider pilot in the Parachute Regiment during the Second World War and ecsaped death when his regiment was wiped out at the Battle of Arnhem.

His journalism career began at the Durham Advertiser and included spells at the Sunderland Echo and as a sub-editor on the Northern Echo. He retired in 1985.

Frank is survived by his 92-year-old wife Emma with whom he had three children – Carole, Neil and Colin, who also worked as a journalist at The Chronicle before becoming a features editor, now retired, at the Sunderland Echo.

He is also suvived by seven grandchildren – Janet, Helen, Kate, Amy, Charlotte, Tristan and Robin – as well as seven great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

Frank died on 30 January and his funeral was held in Durham on Tuesday.