Ministers are under mounting pressure to explain how a former soldier accused of terrorism escaped from prison after it appeared he was transferred from a high-security facility.
Daniel Abed Khalife went missing from HMP Wandsworth by clinging onto a delivery van dressed in his cook’s uniform shortly before 8am on Wednesday morning.
The 21-year-old was being held in the south London jail awaiting trial for planting a fake bomb and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK. He has denied all three charges against him.
Serious questions have emerged over why Khalife was being held on remand at Wandsworth, a Category-B prison, after court reports in January said he was initially being held in the highest-security Category-A institution, HMP Belmarsh.
The Ministry of Justice was unable to say whether he had been transferred from Belmarsh or not but added that a risk assessment would have been carried out if a transfer did occur.
While prisoners awaiting trial are often held in Category B prisons, those facing terror-related charges are often held in Belmarsh, in south-east London, with defendants appearing in court via video link.
Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, told Sky News of the apparent transfer: “That is something that in hindsight they will want to review and the investigation will look into that
“He may well have given the impression to inexperienced staff who conducted his security categorisation that he was far less of a security escape risk than in reality he really was.”
The Metropolitan Police urged the public not to approach Khalife and to call 999 if they see him.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said he had called a meeting with the Governor at HMP Wandsworth, in south-west London, to “make sure that all necessary steps have been taken to secure the prison and progress the investigation”.
“I am receiving regular updates,” he added.
But Labour has demanded answers over how Khalife was able to escape and called on Rishi Sunak to ensure there is “no wider risk” to the country.
Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood said: “The Conservatives need to urgently explain how they can’t do the basic job of keeping potentially dangerous criminals locked up.”
Security checks have been beefed up at major airports including Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow, as well as at the Port of Dover, amid fears Khalife could abscond abroad.
The Met’s Counter Terrorism Command issued an alert to UK police and law enforcement agencies, including at UK ports and borders.
Khalife is described by Scotland Yard as slim, around 6ft 2ins tall, with short brown hair. He was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red-and-white chequered trousers and brown steel-toecapped boots.
Police say he has links to the Kingston area and believe he is likely to be in the London area currently, but may also have travelled elsewhere.
Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, Commander Dominic Murphy, said: “We have a team of officers who are making extensive and urgent inquiries in order to locate and detain Khalife as quickly as possible.
“However, the public can help us as well and should anyone see Khalife, or have any information as to where he might be, then please call 999 immediately.
“I also want to reassure the public that we have no information which indicates, nor any reason to believe that Khalife poses a threat to the wider public, but our advice if you do see him is not to approach him and call 999 straight away.”
As well as Kingston, Khalife also has links to north-west England, but Mr Murphy said the hunt is covering the whole of the UK.
He appeared at the Old Bailey in late July where he denied the charges he is facing.
He is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information that could be useful for a terrorist on 2 August 2021; and breaching the Official Secrets Act by gathering information that could be useful to an enemy between 1 May 2019 and 6 January 2022.
The ex-serviceman, formerly of Beacon Barracks, Beaconside, Stafford, is also accused of a criminal offence relating to the alleged bomb hoax.
It is claimed that he placed “three canisters 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 13 November at Woolwich Crown Court.