Daniel Khalife: 80 prison officers didn’t show up for work on day terror suspect ‘escaped’ Wandsworth Prison
Nearly 4 in 10 prison officers were absent on the day of Daniel Khalife’s escape
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Eighty prison officers at HMP Wandsworth did not show up for work on the day Daniel Khalife allegedly escaped from the prison, it has been revealed.
The government’s justice minister Damian Hinds confirmed the figure - which equates to 39% of the staff expected for that day’s shift - on Friday (15 September), just days after the 21-year-old, who is already accused of terrorism and spying offences, was charged with escaping Wandsworth Prison.
Despite the revelations, Mr Hinds insisted that staffing was still “above the minimum level required”. He also reported that all staff in both the kitchen and the gatehouse - central places in Khalife’s alleged escape - were on duty on 6 September, and that an initial investigation into the incident “did not find the staffing level to be a contributing factor”.
It is believed that Khalife managed to break out of HMP Wandsworth by strapping himself to the underside of a delivery van as it left the grounds. He was missing for three days - prompting a nationwide manhunt - which ended in Chiswick, west London on 9 September when he was pulled off a bicycle by a plain-clothes counter-terrorism Met Police officer.
The news about the staff shortage is only the latest in a series of concerns raised about HMP Wandsworth since Khalife’s ‘escape’. Critics last week pointed to the jail’s performance in the 2022/2023 Annual Prison Performance Ratings, where it was given the lowest possible rating and described as “a serious concern”, while Met Commissioner Sir Rowley revealed in an interview with LBC that the force was “exploring the possibility that Khalife was helped by guards inside the prison.”
Dr Allin-Khan, who uncovered the staffing shortage via a question in Parliament, said: “It is deeply concerning that on the day Khalife escaped, just 60% of prison officers turned up for duty. With such low staff numbers, mistakes were bound to happen.”
The Labour MP for Tooting, the constituency Wandsworth is located in, also claimed she voiced concerns about issues with staffing “many months ago” - particularly after she discovered there was a night where 1,500 inmates were guarded by just seven prison guards.
Meanwhile, shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood added: “It is astonishing that almost 40% of planned staff did not turn up to their shift on the day of the escape at HMP Wandsworth. This makes it clear that the dire conditions at the prison are having wide-ranging implications, including on staffing levels.”
Speaking to journalists about the reports, Rishi Sunak insisted it would be “premature” to talk about the “specific incidents” until an independent investigation establishes the facts of the escape.
The Prime Minister refused to directly address whether the level of absenteeism on the day was acceptable, instead urging people to “turn up to work wherever they work”.
Number 10 acknowledged there was a need to hire more prison workers, but suggested the staffing levels at Wandsworth did not necessarily reflect a wider pattern.
A spokesperson said: “It’s important not to take a snapshot of a single day and draw wider assumptions. I think staffing levels were above the set requirements by the prison’s regime management plan. But we do recognise the need to hire more prison staff.”
According to court documents, Khalife is accused of planting fake bombs at military base RAF Stafford, known as Beacon Barracks. The 21-year-old was posted here when he was a soldier in the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army.
He is also accused of “eliciting or attempting to elicit” information about soldiers from the Ministry of Defence Joint Personnel Administration System, which was described as “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” He has denied all charges.
Khalife was originally due to face trial over these charges in November, but since being remanded into custody on the further charge of escaping Wandsworth, his next scheduled court appearance is on Friday 29 September at the Old Bailey.
The Ministry of Justice has commissioned a probe into the escape, due to be led by Keith Bristow QPM, former director-general of the National Crime Agency. It will consider a range of factors, including whether relevant protocols were in place at HMP Wandsworth when the escape happened, and also look at issues around staffing and security.
Recommendations will then be provided, in the hopes of ensuring similar incidents can be prevented.