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Police helicopters scour Richmond Park for prisoner who escaped from HMP Wandsworth

Police hunting the escaped terror suspect Daniel Khalife have been scouring Richmond Park in south-west London with two helicopters combing the area.

Officers sealed off entrances to the 2,500-acre royal park, which is about two miles from the road in Putney where the delivery van ex-soldier Khalife, 21, is thought to have hid under was stopped by police.

The Met Police confirmed their presence in the area is indeed connected to the search for Khalife.

Police helicopters were also seen circling over nearby Wimbledon Common following Khalife’s escape from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday morning.

Undated handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of a CCTV image of the vehicle searched by police in the hunt for Daniel Khalife. Police are continuing to hunt for the former soldier accused of terrorism, as a senior Government minister admitted there were questions to answer about the prison escape. Issue date: Thursday September 7, 2023. PA Photo. Khalife, 21, went missing in his cook's uniform from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday, prompting extra security checks at major transport hubs. See PA story POLICE Army. Photo credit should read: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Police are continuing to hunt for the former soldier accused of terrorism (Photo: Metropolitan Police Provider: PA Source: PA)

Meanwhile, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) revealed that there were fewer than 100 officers on duty when Khalife escaped when there should have been at least 120, as the union blamed Government budget cuts for understaffing.

Prison insiders told i Khalife is believed to have been helped by either staff or other cellmates after escaping from the jail.

CCTV footage shows the van that Khalife is believed to have strapped himself underneath before it left the Category B jail just after 7.30am.

He was declared missing at 7.50am before police were notified at 8.15am. Officers stopped the van near the junction with Carlton Drive at 8.37am, more than two miles from HMP Wandsworth.

The lorry had turned around by the time police stopped it and had been returning to Wandsworth prison because the driver had been phoned by Bidfood, the company which owns it.

The Met has continued to focus its search in the London area, particularly around this route, as well as Kingston, where Khalife is known to have connections.

More than 150 officers have joined the manhunt for Khalife, who was wearing a chef’s uniform when he fled the prison.

Meanwhile, Mark Fairhurst from the POA hit out at Government budget cuts after the breakout, as he revealed that staffing levels were around 17 per cent below what they should have been at Wandsworth when Khalife escaped.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The last time I visited Wandsworth, which should be holding no more than 979 prisoners, because that’s their certification, they were holding 1,600 and they only had 69 officers.

“During this escape they should have had at least 120 prison officers on duty. They were nowhere near that number, they had less than 100.

“These are really serious issues that need to be addressed. We need to look at the budget cuts that have absolutely crippled this service. And now we’re getting criticised for it.

“This is on the Government’s watch. It’s down to them. They withdrew over £900m-worth of funding. They haven’t invested in staff and they haven’t invested in the infrastructure at Wandsworth so this is on them.”

Nick Hardwick, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Wandsworth was suffering from a “chronic” shortage of experienced staff who had been “abandoned” as they grapple with an overcrowded prison population.

It would be a “serious mistake” to blame Khalife’s escape on errors that may have been made by prison officers or the governor, he believes.

“This is absolutely a symptom of much wider problems in the prison system. Everybody has known that Wandsworth has been in a critical state for months because of their shortages of staff,” he told i.

“You’ve got a real crisis in London prisons, a real crisis in Wandsworth, where something was definitely going to happen. And now what you see is a really determined spin to shift responsibility from the Ministry of Justice on to the staff and managers at Wandsworth.

“There may be an immediate cause where they made mistakes in terms of risk assessment or job location. But the context for that is much wider and deeper systemic problems. No doubt about that.”

Ministers had failed to heed warnings from inspectors about Wandsworth, with HMP Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor “begging” for more resources in a report last year, added Mr Hardwick, a former chair of the Parole Board for England.

As the hunt for Khalife enters a third day, the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism commande Dominic Murphy said it is “testament to the ingenuity” of former Royal Signals soldier Daniel Khalife that there have been no confirmed sightings since he escaped.

“It’s important that we remember that we have some of the best military in the world here in the UK and he was trained.

“He was a trained soldier – so ultimately he has skills that perhaps some sections of the public don’t have.”

Mr Murphy added: “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.”

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