How Daniel Khalife pulled off the great escape at HMP Wandsworth
Cunning and resourceful, the fugitive had more than an hour to melt away before police caught up with his escape truck. Officers finally pulled over the Bidfood lorry four miles from the prison. By then, all that was left to find was the makeshift strapping that Daniel Khalife (pictured centre and right) used to smuggle himself out of prison clinging to the underside of the 18-ton vehicle.
Yesterday police were frantically gathering and scouring hours of CCTV footage from along the winding route the truck took through south London. Significantly Scotland Yard revealed there was 65 minutes between it leaving the prison and being stopped and searched by police, meaning a huge number of possible places where Khalife might have slipped away. As investigators worked to unravel how a 21-year-old terror suspect feared to have spied for Iran managed to pull off a Colditz-style breakout in broad daylight, more details emerged of the audacious escape.
Khalife, who was on remand ahead of a six-week trial, had been working in the kitchens of Category B HMP Wandsworth. He began Wednesday morning by helping to prepare breakfast at the Victorian jail. Police suspect the trained soldier used his expertise to carefully plan his escape. He turned up for duty dressed in his chef’s uniform of a white T-shirt, distinctive red and white chequered trousers and brown steel-toe boots. After serving breakfast to inmates and guards, he slipped out of the kitchen carrying makeshift strapping of some kind, which police have declined to describe in more detail. In the yard outside the kitchen building, a lorry from the wholesaler Bidfood was making a routine delivery of groceries.
When no one was looking, Khalife ducked under the sidebars of the lorry and positioned himself precariously beneath the truck’s underbelly, using the strapping to support his weight. At around 7.30am, with the driver blissfully unaware of the stowaway, the Bidfood lorry was driven 250 yards along the road running along the inside of the 30ft perimeter wall famously scaled by Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs in 1965. Two internal security gates had to be opened to let it pass. At 7.32am, the lorry carrying the former Royal Signals soldier rolled through the prison’s imposing Victorian gate into the open. It was waved past guards and CCTV cameras with another cursory inspection, with no one thinking to check underneath at any of the three security checks. As Khalife clung on, just inches from the wheels and the spinning drive shaft, the lorry turned right on to residential Heathfield Road, then left, then left again on to the busy triple-laned A214.
Police have stressed there is no suspicion about Bidfood or its driver, and said they had been co-operating fully. Officers either do not know or have not said at what point Khalife decided to leave his escape vehicle, or what he did next. But the truck embarked on a near four-mile route through Wandsworth Town and on to the South Circular A205 road heading west towards Putney. Khalife had an 18-minute head-start before anyone even noticed his absence. He was declared missing at 7.50am, and prison officers launched an urgent search, but it was a further 25 minutes before the police were called at 8.15am – by now a full 43 minutes after he had sprung himself.
Metropolitan Police cars descended on the area, while the lorry driver was called by his company and ordered to turn around and return to the prison. On a busy high street close to East Putney station, officers swooped on the Bidfood truck at 8.37am outside a coffee shop. A business owner who witnessed the operation told the Mail: ‘The police were searching inside the van, underneath it, on the roof, in the cab, everywhere. At first there was one unmarked, black police car, then a van and about five police cars. They were using two dogs to search it, one inside and one underneath.’ He said the search lasted for two hours.
Scotland Yard Commander Dominic Murphy said last night: ‘We searched it, but we found no trace of him. But we did find strapping that meant he had been underneath.’ Officers were keeping an open mind as to whether Khalife was helped by accomplices, but Mr Murphy cited the fugitive’s ‘ingenuity’ and said: ‘We have some of the best military in world and he was a trained soldier.’ He said police officers believed Khalife – a ‘very resourceful individual’ – would have needed to plan his escape, rather than it being opportunistic.
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