Police are continuing to hunt for a former soldier accused of terrorism, as a senior Government minister admitted there were questions to answer about the prison escape.
Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, went missing in his cook’s uniform from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday, prompting extra security checks at major transport hubs.
There are fears the fugitive – who has been missing since 8am on Wednesday – might try to flee the country.
It has been reported that he escaped from a prison kitchen by clinging to a delivery van.
Cabinet minister Michelle Donelan acknowledged that the public would be concerned about the incident, but insisted prison escapes were incredibly rare and the incident was being looked into.
Professor Ian Acheson, a former head of security at Wandsworth, said Khalife’s escape was “at best” a “catastrophic system failure”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s incredibly embarrassing for the prison service but it’s not entirely surprising given what we know about what’s going on Wandsworth at the moment.”
Professor Acheson said the prison was in “freefall”.
He added: “I mean, frankly, if you cannot even manage to get the bins emptied in a place like Wandsworth what else is going wrong?”
Ms Donelan said there were questions to answer, including over the type of prison Khalife was being held at, with HMP Wandsworth – a category B prison – having the second-highest level of security.
She later told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “This is not an epidemic or anything of that nature. This is an isolated incident.”
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 slim and 6ft 2in, with short brown hair.
The jail was put on lockdown after he fled.
Ms Donelan told LBC: “It is my understanding it is not as black and white as that when you determine where somebody goes into which type of prison, but that is something that is being looked at.
“I’ve spoken to the Justice Secretary, I know that the investigation is taking place.
“I think there are a lot of questions to answer here. But the top priority obviously needs to be catching him as well.”
She batted away questions about a link between the escape and the UK’s over-stretched prison system.
“We’ve always said that the prison estate needs an upgrade and we need to expand the capacity.
“But I don’t think that we should draw a parallel between the two things here. It is extremely rare for a prisoner to escape.
“We shouldn’t politicise the topic, really. We should look at exactly what has happened and then how can we deal with that to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Ms Donelan said.
The head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, Commander Dominic Murphy, has said there is “no reason to believe Khalife poses a threat to the wider public” but has urged people not to approach him and to call 999 if they spot him.
Khalife was held at Belmarsh prison but later transferred to Wandsworth, according to reports.
He has links to north-west England and Kingston in London but Mr Murphy said the hunt is covering the whole of the UK.
Khalife was previously stationed at the Ministry of Defence’s Beacon Barracks in Stafford.
The barracks are home to the Royal Corps of Signals 1st Signal Brigade, the Defence Electronics Agency, the RAF Joint Helicopter Command’s Tactical Supply Wing and No 22 Group air force cadets.
According to the Telegraph, he described his role on social media as being a computer specialist with skills including information technology and system administration.
The 21-year-old appeared at the Old Bailey in late July where he denied the charges.
He is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information that could be useful for a terrorist on August 2 2021, and breaching the Official Secrets Act by gathering information that could be useful to an enemy between May 1 2019 and January 6 2022.
The ex-serviceman is also accused of a criminal offence relating to the alleged bomb hoax.
It is claimed that he placed “three cannisters 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 November 13 at Woolwich Crown Court.