Terror suspect escape 'clearly pre-planned', says Met Police boss

Richmond Park, in southwest London, was sealed shut as a search for Khalife was carried out on Friday, but the park has now reopened as normal.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has said Daniel Khalife’s escape from prison was “clearly pre-planned” as the hunt for the fugitive terror suspect enters its third day.

Richmond Park, in southwest London, was on lockdown in the early hours of Friday and into the morning as a helicopter circled overhead – with police confirming the operation was linked to Khalife – but as of 11am the park was open as normal.

The former soldier, who according to reports is accused of gathering information for Iran, went missing in his cook’s uniform from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday.

Strapping was found on the underside of a Bidfood delivery vehicle which police stopped just over an hour after it left the prison, with officers suggesting Khalife held on to the underside of the lorry to escape.

The Met Police’s Sir Mark has said the prisoner’s escape was “pre-planned” and hasn’t ruled out the prospect the prisoner was helped.

The incident has prompted questions over staffing levels at HMP Wandsworth and why Khalife was being held in a Category B prison.

Sir Mark Rowley told LBC on Friday, Khalife’s escape was “clearly pre-planned”.

“The fact he could strap himself onto the bottom of the wagon, there’s obviously some logistics involved,” the police boss said.

“Just to work out a prison escape, and how you can do the logistics of it and get the right equipment, and how you’re going to do it, it’s unlikely to be something you do on the spur of the moment.”

Sir Mark didn’t rule out the escape being assisted.

“We’re going to look at everything. Did he do this on his own? Did anyone from inside the prison help him? It’s a question. Other prisoners? Corrupt guard staff? Was he helped by someone outside the walls? Was it simply all of his own creation?”

The Police Commissioner described the Richmond park search as a “massive operation” with “well into three figures of officers involved.”

The Met’s counter-terrorism commander Dominic Murphy said more than 150 investigators and police staff from counter terrorism command working in London on investigation and officers had received more than 50 calls from the public which had provided “some really valuable lines of inquiry”.

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’s a very resourceful individual, clearly, and our experience of him shows that, so nothing is off the table with him at the moment’

“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 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.

Police officers search the lorry that Daniel Khalife is believed to have used to escape from prison (Credit: London Face TV)

The Prime Minister has declined to comment on suggestions that there could be foreign state involvement in the escape.

Rishi Sunak was also asked whether he has confidence in the governor of HMP Wandsworth.

Speaking to broadcasters in New Delhi, he said: “This is obviously something that people will be focused on and I want to reassure people the police are working night and day to recapture the individual.

“Thankfully, these incidents are extremely rare.

“The justice secretary has initiated already an internal inquiry into specific circumstances around his escape… And it would be right to just let that go through so we know exactly what happens.

“The detail of what’s happening is being established as I speak by the justice secretary right now.”

The justice secretary confirmed an independent investigation will take place following Khalife’s escape.

The lorry Daniel Khalife is believed to have used to escape from prison. / Credit: Metropolitan Police

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 prisons performance was rated a “serious concern” and watchdogs had issued a string of warnings about the jail in the past year before Khalife escaped.

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, and is described as slim and 6ft 2in, with short brown hair.

Kent Police said 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.

Lorries queue for the Port of Dover along the M20 near Ashford in Kent as security checks are being carried out at the port. / Credit: PA

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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