Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Police scour Richmond Park in hunt for escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife

Police hunting for escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife were scouring Richmond Park this morning, as the search for the fugitive enters a third day.

Officers guarded entry and exit points while two helicopters equipped with heat-seeking cameras combed the 2,400-acre park overhead.

The former soldier, accused of spying for Iran among other offences, was in his cook’s uniform when he slipped out of HMP Wandsworth a few miles away clinging to the underside of a food van.

Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism commander said yesterday it is ‘testament to the ingenuity’ of the 21-year-old that there have been no confirmed sightings since Wednesday’s breakout.

Dominic Murphy said he was keeping an ‘open mind’ as to whether Khalife had received support from somebody to escape prison and whether he had managed to leave the country.

A source close to the investigation told MailOnline: ‘If I was him I’d be hundreds of miles away from Wandsworth but we have to be certain he’s not on our doorstep.

‘The van he was in was a couple of miles from Richmond Park so it has to be searched – and from the air is the easiest way.’

They added that the park is expected to open as normal later on Friday morning, ‘which is a sign they haven’t found what they were looking for’.

The lorry Khalife is believed to have strapped himself to left HMP Wandsworth at 7.32am on Wednesday. He was declared missing at 7.50am.

Police were notified at 8.15am and the lorry was stopped on Upper Richmond Road, near to the junction of Carlton Drive, at 8.37am.

CCTV footage later emerged of the van driving along a road in London after it had left the prison.

Khalife is not visible in any of the images, including one clip filmed within 200 yards of the prison gates, which sources suggest could indicate he dropped off the van as soon as it left the walls.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Mr Murphy said: ‘This was a really busy area of London and we’ve had no confirmed sightings in any of that information, which is a little unusual, and perhaps testament to Daniel Khalife’s ingenuity in his escape and some of his movements after his escape.

‘He was a trained soldier – so ultimately he has skills that perhaps some sections of the public don’t have. He’s a very resourceful individual, clearly, and our experience of him shows that, so nothing is off the table with him at the moment.’

The Justice Secretary confirmed an independent investigation will take place following Khalife’s escape.

Alex Chalk told MPs two urgent reviews would also take place regarding the categorisation and placement of all HMP Wandsworth prisoners and all those in custody charged with terrorism offences.

Wandsworth prison’s performance was rated a ‘serious concern’ and watchdogs had issued a string of warnings about the jail in the past year before Khalife escaped.

John Podmore, a former governor at HMP Brixton and HMP Belmarsh, told the BBC Radio 4’s World At One he believed Khalife should have been held at maximum security Belmarsh, where terrorist prisoners and those accused of such offences are often detained, rather than Category B jail Wandsworth.

Mr Podmore said: ‘My view is that he should have been at Belmarsh.

‘It’s much more suited to the levels of security that someone like this – charged with, not convicted – needs. I can’t understand why he wasn’t at Belmarsh.’

One former inmate at HMP Wandsworth, who worked alongside Khalife in the prison’s kitchens, said the escapee had struck him as ‘odd’ and had told him he was ‘going to be famous’.

Chris Jones, 53, told BBC London: ‘He did seem like an odd sausage. One lunchtime he came in saying that he was going be famous. I told him: “I think you’ve got on the wrong bus, mate”.’

Mr Jones, who the BBC reported was released in June after being acquitted after seven months on remand, said he was ‘surprised but not surprised’ by Khalife’s escape.

He added: ‘We always used to joke about that lorry; jump in it and drive off, but there was a lot of security staff around the kitchens so it is a surprise he got through there.’

Khalife, who was awaiting trial after allegedly planting a fake bomb at an RAF base and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK, was discharged from the Army in May 2023.

He has denied the three charges against him.

He was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown, steel toe-cap boots, the Metropolitan Police said. He is described as slim and 6ft 2in, with short brown hair.

His escape prompted extra security checks at major transport hubs.

Junctions eight and nine of the M20 were temporarily shut on Thursday due to the enhanced security checks – and to allow freight heading for mainland Europe to queue on the empty section of the motorway.

Mr Murphy previously said there was ‘no reason to believe Khalife poses a threat to the wider public’ but urged people not to approach him and to call 999 if they spotted him.

Khalife has links to the West Midlands and Kingston in London, but Mr Murphy said the hunt was covering the whole of the UK.

He was previously stationed at the Ministry of Defence’s Beacon Barracks in Stafford.

A man was stopped by police at Banbury train station in Oxfordshire on Thursday but Scotland Yard said it was not Khalife.

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