A suspected terrorist has escaped from Wandsworth prison by clinging to a delivery van, the authorities believe, in an audacious breakout that has sparked a national manhunt.
Ports and airports across the country are on high alert after Daniel Abed Khalife, a former soldier in the British Army, was reported missing from the Category B prison at 7.50am.
Sources said that Khalife, 21, who worked in the prison kitchen, crawled underneath a van and held on to the underside as it drove out of the gates.
He was on remand at the prison in southwest London while awaiting trial accused of leaving fake bombs at a military base in January. A further charge, under the Official Secrets Act, alleges that he collected personal information about soldiers from the Ministry of Defence Joint Personnel Administration System which could be useful to an enemy.
Passengers at airports around the country, including Heathrow and Manchester, have been warned to expect delays while extra checks are carried out.
HMP Wandsworth in southwest London. It is understood that Khalife crawled underneath a van and held on to the underside as it drove out of the prison gates
Authorities face questions about choice of prison
The prison authorities now face serious questions about why Khalife was in a Category B prison rather than category A, the highest security. He was facing trial at Woolwich crown court in November, which is connected by a tunnel to Belmarsh, a Category A prison and a facility purpose-built for prisoners facing terrorism charges (Fiona Hamilton writes).
Ian Acheson, a prisons expert and the former head of security at Wandsworth, told The Times it was a “staggering lapse in security”.
Khalife appeared at Westminster magistrates’ court in January, after he was arrested
He said: “It is difficult to understand why someone facing those charges is at Wandsworth in the first place. And even then, why he’s in the kitchen, which is a security risk immediately because it involves handling knives. Did they do an effective risk assessment?”
The escape comes after multiple reports of overcrowding, staff shortages and other serious problems in prisons, including HMP Wandsworth, which was labelled a “crumbling, overcrowded, vermin-infested prison” in its most recent inspection.
Wandsworth ‘plagued by overcrowding’ in recent years
HMP Wandsworth has five wing units leading to a central hub with courtyards and other buildings around the outside (Kieran Gair writes).
Wandsworth is classified as a Category B prison, the second highest level of security in the country.
Category A prisons, such as HMP Belmarsh, are typically used to house prisoners charged with terrorism offences or whose escape would pose extreme danger to public safety or national security.
Wandsworth has been plagued by overcrowding in recent years, with the prison often holding between 60 and 80 per cent more prisoners than it was designed for.
Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, has held an urgent call with the prison governor and senior staff in the prison service to seek assurances about what is being done to ensure the jail is secure.
A prison service spokesperson said: “We are working with the Metropolitan Police to recapture this prisoner and are urgently investigating how he escaped.”
While escapes are rare, other notable escapees include Ronnie Biggs, who broke out of Wandsworth in July 1965 while serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the Great Train Robbery. He fled to Australia before ending up in Brazil in 1970 and remained on the run until 2001, when he returned to the UK.
Britons could face border delays amid manhunt
Britons are being warned to expect border delays at the country’s ports and airports amid a major manhunt for the escaped prisoner Daniel Abed Khalife (Kieran Gair writes).
Passengers are facing long queues at several airports across the country, including Manchester, Heathrow and Glasgow, after UK ports and airports were put on high alert by the Metropolitan Police.
Some travellers have claimed that police and border force officers were checking the identification of all passengers after they have passed through security.
An alert was issued to UK ports and airports after Khalife’s escape from HMP Wandsworth.
The Metropolitan Police said: “An alert was issued by the Counter Terrorism Command earlier today in relation to Khalife through established operational briefing channels to relevant UK police and law enforcement agencies, including those at UK ports and borders.”
A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “Our security teams work hard to ensure the safety and security of all at Manchester Airport and carry out important checks set by the UK government.”
The Port of Dover, meanwhile, has said travellers should expect “some delays” at the border “due to a police matter”.
The delays, a spokesperson said, were due to enhanced checks on outbound traffic.
The spokesperson added: “Our standard travel guidance remains unchanged and we will keep passengers updated if they can expect any alteration to their journey.
Airports notified over Khalife’s escape
Counter Terrorism Command have issued an alert to UK ports and airports warning them about Khalife’s escape in case he tries to flee the country (David Woode writes).
In a statement the force said: “An alert was issued by the Counter Terrorism Command earlier today in relation to Khalife through established operational briefing channels to relevant UK police and law enforcement agencies, including those at UK ports and borders.”
Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, has held an “urgent call” with the governor of HMP Wandsworth and other senior prison officers, the BBC reported.
Escaped prisoner discharged from British Army in May
Daniel Abed Khalife was discharged from the British army in May, the Ministry of Defence has said (Kieran Gair writes).
He faces charges under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Criminal Law Act 1977, the MoD added, while describing him as a “former soldier”.
An army spokesperson said: “As a result of being held on remand for these charges, Daniel Khalife was discharged from the army on May 22 2023.”