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Why wasn’t terror suspect locked up in max-security HMP Belmarsh? Experts question why prisoner Daniel Khalife, 21, was rated category-B and put in ‘overcrowded’ Wandsworth where SIX people including Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs had escaped before

Terror suspect Daniel Khalife was being held in Category B Wandsworth prison when he escaped, raising questions as to why he was not incarcerated at the notorious HMP Belmarsh – a Category A jail where most terror suspects are held.

No one has ever escaped from Belmarsh, while maximum security prison Wandsworth has seen at least six inmates break out over the years – including Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs.

After serving just fifteen months of his 30-year sentence in 1965, Biggs scaled the 30ft-high perimeter wall with three others as the guards watched on – before going on the run for 36 years.

Other escapees include Eamon Donaghue, who swapped his inmates clothes for a prison officer’s uniform in 2003, and fraudster Neil Moore, who managed to get out in 2015 by posting a letter to wardens pretending it was from the court service.

As the latest fugitive to break out of Wandsworth, the Ministry of Justice has said it is now looking into why Khalife was classed as lower-risk and placed in the Category B prison.

Daniel Abed Khalife, an ex-British Army serviceman, escaped from HMP Wandsworth, sparking an urgent appeal by Metropolitan Police

Daniel Abed Khalife, an ex-British Army serviceman, escaped from HMP Wandsworth, sparking an urgent appeal by Metropolitan Police

Wandsworth has seen at least six inmates break out over the years - including Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs

Wandsworth has seen at least six inmates break out over the years – including Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs

Khalife, 21, was on remand at HMP Wandsworth (pictured) awaiting trial in relation to terrorism and Official Secrets Act offences

Most terror suspects are held at HMP Belmarsh - a notorious category-A prison no one has ever escaped from

Most terror suspects are held at HMP Belmarsh – a notorious category-A prison no one has ever escaped from

The Victorian jail in the southwest of the city has been described in a recent report as ‘overcrowded, crumbling and vermin-infested’, while Belmarsh is just 32 years old and known for its tight security.

Khalife was previously an inmate at HMP Belmarsh after being denied bail, but by July he was being held at Wandsworth, the BBC reports, with it unclear when he was transferred. 

Questions are now being raised over why Khalife, a former army soldier accused of serious terror offences, was not being held at Belmarsh when he made his dramatic escape.

How many other prisoners have escaped HMP Wandsworth?

In 1965, Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escaped with three others by scaling HMP Wandsworth’s 30-ft perimeter wall after they were allowed out to exercise.

Prison guards, obstructed by other inmates who were still exercising, watched on helplessly during the daring prison break.

Biggs went on to be a fugitive for 36 years, living in Australia and Brazil before flying back to the UK in 2001 and being put behind bars again.

In 2003, Eamon Donaghue ditched his prison clothes for a prison officer’s uniform he found while cleaning the officers’ mess hall. 

Fraudster Neil Moore was on remand in the Category B prison when he managed to get out in 2015 by posting a letter to wardens pretending it was from the court service. 

He told clueless wardens that he had been granted bail, and was free to walk out. 

He later had a ‘change of heart’ and surrendered himself after ‘three or four days.’

And most recently, in 2019, a prisoner was wrongly released by Wandsworth staff just six days into a six-week sentence. 

Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, said: ‘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.’

Speaking to Sky News, the prisons expert said that staff shortages in prisons and lower security in certain areas may have played a part in Khalife’s successful escape.

Khalife, who was discharged from the army in May, was last seen wearing a chef’s uniform – a white t-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown steel toe cap boots.

It is believed he was working in the kitchens before he ran out and clung onto a van that was delivering goods to the prison which was then put on lockdown .

‘Perhaps the use of civilian caterers who are not trained prison officers, along with gate security procedures that just become routine and which he may well have spotted while going to court,’ Mr Leech speculated.

As an ex-soldier in the British Army, Khalife likely had training which would have enabled him to escape all sorts of situations in which he might be held captive.

Formally based at Beacon barracks in Stafford, he was charged in January with breaching the Official Secrets Act by allegedly committing ‘an act prejudicial to the safety or interests’ of Britain in a plot said to be linked to a hostile nation.

British-born but thought to have Middle Eastern heritage, Khalife was said to have gathered details that ‘could be useful to an enemy’ between May 2019 and January 2022. 

He was also charged with eliciting information about members of the Armed Forces useful for terrorism, by recording personal details from the Ministry of Defence joint personnel administration system on August 2, 2021.

Khalife was arrested after allegedly planting fake bombs – three canisters with wires – on a desk in his barracks accommodation on January 2 this year.

He was discharged when he faced criminal accusations of perpetrating a bomb hoax ‘with the intention of inducing a belief in another that the said items was likely to explode or ignite’. 

Since his arrest, judges have refused to grant the terror suspect bail ahead of his trial at Woolwich Crown Court on November 20. 

Khalife was last seen in public at the Old Bailey in July when he denied all three charges.

The Courts and Judiciary’s guidance highlights that ‘some of the most serious cases are tried at the Old Bailey or Woolwich Crown Court which have particularly high security facilities, the latter being linked to Belmarsh Prison’. 

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement: ‘We are working with the Metropolitan Police to recapture this prisoner and are urgently investigating how he escaped.’

The Great Train Robbery which saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in August 1963

The Great Train Robbery which saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in August 1963

Biggs (left) was one of the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery which saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in August 1963

Biggs (left) was one of the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery which saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in August 1963

‘An internal investigation is underway and the Justice Secretary is working to understand from operational colleagues this evening both the categorisation decision and the situation that led to the escape, what protocols were in place and if they were followed.’

Belmarsh has hosted Britain’s most notorious criminals and a raft of terror suspects in its 32-year history. 

What’s HMP Wandsworth famous for?

HMP Wandsworth, a Category B prison in southwest London, is one of the UK’s largest. 

It was built in 1851 as the ‘Surrey House of Correction.’

In 2022, its wardens were heavily criticised in a damning report that claimed the prison was plagued by overcrowding and violence. 

The report noted that prisoners were left in ‘very poor conditions’ surrounded by ‘piles of litter’ in ‘dirty, graffiti covered cells.’

Until as recently as 1996, inmates were forced to clean up their own excrement every morning in a process call ‘slopping out.’

Notable current and former inmates include:

  • German tennis star Boris Becker 
  • Boxer and artist Charles Bronson 
  • David Chaytor, the first MP to be convicted for his role in the parliamentary expenses scandal 
  • Drill artist Digga D
  • Paedophiles Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris
  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
  • Gangster Ronnie Kray 
  • Great Train Robbery culprit Ronnie Biggs 

 Sources: Wandsworth Guardian, Old Police Cells Museusm

Among its current inmates are Lee Rigby’s killer, Michael Adebolajo, and Ali Harbi Ali, who murdered MP Sir David Amess. 

HMP Wandsworth’s notable current and former inmates include Boxer and artist Charles Bronson and German tennis star Boris Becker.

The Category B facility has also gained notoriety for its escapees. 

The most famous was, Biggs, one of the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery which saw £2.6 million stolen from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London in August 1963.

Train driver Jack Mills was attacked with an iron bar during the crime in 1963 and never fully recovered from his injuries.

Biggs’s escape from Wandsworth saw a rope ladder thrown over the jail’s 30ft wall from the outside. 

The train robber and three other inmates dropped on to a removal van which then sped off. 

Biggs remained a fugitive for 36 years, living in Australia and Brazil before he returned to Britain – and was arrested – in 2001.

Biggs was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2009 and died in a nursing home in December 2013 at the age of 84.

Other incidents in Wandsworth’s history include the 2003 escape of an inmate who ditched his prison clothes for a prison officer’s uniform he found while cleaning the officers’ mess hall. 

Eamon Donaghue had been jailed in 2001 for three and a half years for stealing a car and then using it to attack a police officer.

He was arrested a week after walking out of the jail.

In 2015, fraudster Neil Moore was on remand in the Category B prison when he managed to get out.

He craftily posted a letter to wardens pretending it was from the court service. 

In 2019, a prisoner was wrongly released by Wandsworth staff just six days into a six-week sentence.

Gas engineer Stephen Forde, 38, was jailed after admitting breaching a restraining order.

After his release, Forde took his daughter on a week-long holiday but was arrested by Essex Police when he arrived back in Britain.

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