How terror suspect Daniel Khalife pulled off the great escape from HMP Wandsworth

Suspected spy Daniel Khalife remains on the run after he escaped from prison in what has been described as a carefully planned operation

Khalife's ability to remained at large for so long is 'testament to his ingenuity' and his military training, say investigators
Khalife's ability to remained at large for so long is 'testament to his ingenuity' and his military training, say investigators Credit: Telegraph exclusive picture of Daniel Khalife in Phase 2 training in Blandford Forum, Dorset. Undated. Sourced by Danielle Sheridan

It was just after 7am on Wednesday when a Bidfood lorry pulled up to the gates of HMP Wandsworth in south London on its regular delivery route.

After completing the usual security checks, the wagon containing fresh foodstuffs passed through the two sets of gates into the so-called sterile area near the prison kitchens.

As the driver unloaded his delivery, inmates from the Victorian prison were filing in and out of the canteen for the busy breakfast serving.

At the same time, one of the remand prisoners, who held a privileged chef’s position in the kitchens, slipped unnoticed past the guards and made his way towards the van.

Perhaps pretending to be lending a hand with the delivery, Daniel Khalife, a suspected terrorist and spy, climbed underneath the van.

Using a set of heavy duty straps he attached himself to the underside of the vehicle and clung on waiting for the driver to return.

In what police have now acknowledged was a carefully pre-planned operation, Khalife was banking on the fact that the lax security checks he had observed being conducted on departing vehicles would not reveal his hiding place.

His plan worked perfectly and at 7.37am the Bidfood vehicle left the prison grounds and headed off on the rest of its delivery route.

As the lorry pulled into the rush hour traffic and made its way across south west London, Khalife waited for the opportune moment before detaching himself and slipping away into the city streets before his absence had even been noted.

At 7.50am, guards working in the kitchen area realised Khalife was not at his post and the alarm was raised.

Prison lockdown

The prison immediately went into lockdown as a search and roll call was conducted to try and locate him.

Twenty five minutes later - after a thorough but fruitless search of the ground - the governor contacted Scotland Yard to alert them to the fact they had a prisoner on the run.

The fact Khalife was an alleged terrorist, suspected of spying for Iran meant the Metropolitan Police’s SO15 counter-terror command was immediately alerted.

Meanwhile the unsuspecting driver of the Bidfood lorry was continuing on his usual delivery route.

Just after 8.30am he was contacted by his boss and told to head back to Wandsworth immediately as there was a serious problem. There is no suggestion any lorry drivers were complicit in the escape.

At 8.37am as he headed along Upper Richmond Road he was suddenly pulled over by police with sniffer dogs who began searching the vehicle thoroughly. QANFCy--ntA

While there was no sign of Khalife himself, officers did locate the straps he had used to execute his daring escape.

With the public still unaware that a suspected terrorist was on the run, police put out an urgent alert to all ports and airports, fearful that Khalife would immediately try to flee the country.

Extra passport checks led to delays at some airports and traffic began backing up at the Channel ports as vehicle searches were ordered.

Helicopters join the search

Police helicopters were deployed and more than 150 police officers and staff were drafted in to assist with the manhunt.

Detectives swooped on Khalife’s old addresses in London and Stafford and also visited the homes of family, friends and known associates.

There was speculation that Khalife may have suffered burns to his skin by clinging on to the bottom of the lorry and may have needed to seek medical attention.

News of Khalife’s audacious escape broke on Wednesday afternoon, with his mugshot being widely circulated in the media.

On Thursday lunchtime, a man bearing a striking resemblance to the former soldier was detained at Banbury railway station in Oxfordshire after an eagle eyed member of the public contacted Thames Valley Police.

But he turned out to be an entirely innocent member of the public, and more than 36 hours after he disappeared police admitted there had still been no confirmed sightings.

Commander Dominic Murphy, who is leading the investigation, said the fact Khalife had remained at large for so long was “testament to his ingenuity” and his military training.

He 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.

“It’s important that we remember that we have some of the best military in the world here in the UK and he was trained.

“He was a trained soldier - so ultimately he has skills that perhaps some sections of the public don’t have.”

‘A very resourceful individual’

Mr Murphy added: “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.”

One senior defence source told the Telegraph that Khalife would have received training in the Army that would help him stay one step ahead while on the run.

The source said: “We teach them initiative, command tasks, problem solving skills. We train people well, to be individuals, to adapt, overcome and improvise.

“He’s not in the infantry so doesn’t have the same resilience level as an infantry soldier, but even our basic soldiers are trained to be resilient to adapt, overcome and survive in harsh and unpredictable environments.”

Daniel Abed Khalife used heavy duty straps to cling to the underside of the food delivery vehicle

The source went on: ”We do something called ‘survive, evade, resist and escape’, known as SERE training. It’s one of the basic annual training events each year.

“Soldiers are taught how to escape in the wild, to build shelters, and basic communication skills.”

One military source who knew Khalife when he was serving, described him as “funny” and “likeable”, but said sometimes he could seem “a bit dim”.

But he added: “That could have been an act as he’s clearly got enough nouse about him to get away from stuff. Not a typical oddball, there weren’t clear warning signs.”

Scotland Yard said it was keeping an open mind as to whether Khalife had been receiving any help or support since going on the run.

But Mr Murphy said if anyone was helping the escaped prisoner they were committing a serious criminal offence and warned them they would face the full force of the law.

Meanwhile scores of detectives were scouring CCTV footage of the route the van took through south London in the hope of identifying the exact location where Khalife detached himself.

Red faces at HMP Wandsworth

The escape has left red faces at HMP Wandsworth and anger in Whitehall with Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, ordering an urgent inquiry into the blunders that had allowed him to escape.

When news of Khalife’s escape began to spread through the prison on Wednesday many staff and officers appeared in shock.

Some prison officers visiting local shops, still in uniform, were even in tears at what happened and the spotlight his escape would put on their procedures and apparent security failures.

One local estate agent told the Telegraph: “Many of the prison staff were in tears as they left work yesterday. I saw them as they walked past my office, looking very emotional. I guess it’s upsetting when the one thing that isn’t supposed to happen happens on your watch.”

Bidfood, a major wholesaler, later confirmed one of its lorries had been used in the escape.

In a statement the firm said: “Yesterday morning we were made aware of a security incident involving one of our vehicles, whilst out on delivery.

“We can confirm that our driver fully cooperated with the police on this matter before returning back to the depot. We will continue to assist the authorities in their ongoing investigation.”