Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Terror suspect's 'WWII-style' escape has left prison bosses a 'laughing stock'

Prison bosses have been branded a ‘laughing stock’ after a terror suspect managed to escape through the front gates by hanging on to the bottom of a food delivery truck. 

Daniel Abed Khalife, 22, was still wearing his red chequered chef’s trousers when he slipped out of HMP Wandsworth in southwest London on Wednesday. 

Professor Ian Acheson, a former head of security at the category B jail, said the escape was ‘at best’ a ‘catastrophic system failure’. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, he said: ‘Well, at best, this is a catastrophic system failure that actually starts with the allocation of Khalife to Wandsworth and ends with a terror suspect working in a prison kitchen of an establishment in crisis (and) escaping in a vehicle. 

‘So, it’s incredibly embarrassing for the prison service but it’s not entirely surprising given what we know about what’s going on Wandsworth at the moment.’ 

Professor Acheson, also a former prison governor, went on: ‘I’m afraid to say that Wandsworth, like so many of our flagship prisons, is in freefall. 

‘You’ve only got to look at the most recent inspections, and other monitoring reports, that reveal it’s filthy, it’s vermin infested, on any day 30-44% of frontline staff are unavailable to work. 

‘Morale is awful. I mean, frankly, if you cannot even manage to get the bins emptied in a place like Wandsworth what else is going wrong?’ 

Khalife is said to have made his way to the prison’s delivery area still in his chef’s uniform after serving breakfast to fellow inmates shortly before 8am yesterday. 

An insider told The Sun: ‘He slipped under the delivery van dropping off groceries at the kitchen and strapped himself under the vehicle. 

‘After the food supplies were unloaded, the van drove back out through the main gate and was given a cursory inspection before being waved through. Then he disappeared into thin air.’ 

Ex-Met Police commander John O’Connor compared the escape to ‘something which could have happened at Colditz rather than a modern prison’.  

He told the newspaper: ‘It makes the prison service look like a laughing stock. It is utterly ridiculous he managed to escape so easily with such a basic old-fashioned ploy.’ 

Counter-terror police placed all ports on high alert amid fears Khalife, who The Times reports was previously labelled a flight risk, would try and flee the country. 

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. 

Cabinet minister Michelle Donelan acknowledged that the public would be concerned about the incident, but insisted prison escapes were incredibly rare and the incident was being looked into. 

She said an investigation into why a former soldier accused of terrorism was not held in a prison with the highest security level is ‘underway’. 

Khalife was held at Belmarsh prison but later transferred to Wandsworth, according to reports. 

Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday, she said that her understanding was that it was not ‘black and white’ whether a terror suspect should be held in a category A prison, such as Belmarsh. 

‘It’s my understanding it’s not as black and white about that as that,’ she said. ‘So, there is an investigation checking that he was in the correct facility. 

‘It’s not as black and white, is my understanding, as to what category somebody under arrest for that those types of crimes should be in.’ 

Asked if Daniel Khalife had not been held in Belmarsh prison because it was full, she said it was ‘no secret’ that prison capacity was an issue. 

Khalife has links to north-west England and Kingston in London, but Mr Murphy said the hunt is covering the whole of the UK. 

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

The barracks are home to the Royal Corps of Signals 1st Signal Brigade, the Defence Electronics Agency, the RAF Joint Helicopter Command’s Tactical Supply Wing and No 22 Group air force cadets. 

According to the Telegraph, he described his role on social media as being a computer specialist with skills including information technology and system administration. 

The 21-year-old appeared at the Old Bailey in late July where he denied the charges. 

He is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information that could be useful for a terrorist on August 2, 2021, and breaching the Official Secrets Act by gathering information that could be useful to an enemy between May 1, 2019, and January 6, 2022. 

The ex-serviceman is also accused of a criminal offence relating to the alleged bomb hoax. 

It is claimed that he placed ‘three cannisters with wires on a desk in his accommodation’ with the intention of inducing in another a belief this was ‘likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or damage to property’. 

A trial date has been set for November 13 at Woolwich Crown Court. 

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