An inmate who worked alongside Daniel Khalife in the kitchens at HMP Wandsworth has revealed the terror suspect claimed he was ‘going to be famous’.
The 21-year-old broke out of the southwest London jail on Wednesday morning by fixing himself underneath a lorry that was delivering food to the prison.
It has emerged he had a 65-minute window to disappear before police caught up with the Bidfood lorry he had strapped himself to four miles away from the prison in Putney.
Detectives launched a nationwide manhunt but they fear the fugitive may have had external help and could be anywhere in the world now.
Former inmate Chris Jones, 53, told the BBC that he prepared food at the kitchens in HMP Wandsworth while Khalife would unload grocery deliveries from lorries.
He added that Khalife had been brought in as a vulnerable prisoner and that he worked with a number of other inmates in the kitchen.
Mr Jones was released from the prison in June. He was acquitted after being on remand there for seven months but has now been cleared of conspiracy to blackmail and works as a roofer.
He described Khalife as ‘quite down to earth and up for a laugh’ but added that he didn’t appear to be ‘a criminal mastermind’.
Mr Jones told the BBC: ‘He [Khalife] did seem like an odd sausage. One lunchtime he came in saying that he was going be famous. I told him: ‘I think you’ve got on the wrong bus, mate.’
‘He would come to work with a comb and mirror constantly checking his appearance, although I can’t say I thought much of it.’
When asked about how easy he thinks it is to escape from HMP Wandsworth, Mr Jones said he was ‘surprised but not surprised’ about what Khalife has managed to do.
He said they ‘always used to joke’ about jumping in the food lorry and driving off, but added that there are a lot of security staff around the kitchen at the prison so he’s surprised Khalife actually got away with securing himself under the lorry.
Mr Jones added that a member of staff would stand by the lorry ticking off goods as they were unloaded, and no-one could move around freely. He said the staff would log a move if you went from the kitchen to the coffee shop, for instance.
But Mr Jones also said that ‘mistakes were made’ at the prison sometimes because of ‘staffing issues’.
He described how one time the whole prison was put on lockdown because it was believed a prisoner had escaped.
But it turned out the person had been freed the day before, but their release hadn’t been registered properly.
So, in that sense, Mr Jones said he wasn’t surprised that ‘someone slipped up’ or perhaps that there wasn’t ‘enough people to staff the kitchen’.
An independent report into HMP Wandsworth released in September 2022 found there was a ‘staffing crisis’.
The report said: ‘Significant staffing problems are adversely affecting the delivery of a consistent regime. Although technically fully staffed, over 30% of staff are non-operational on a regular basis, for a number of reasons, rising sometimes to over 40%.
‘With an increasing number of more volatile young prisoners, and incidents of violence at alarming levels, the recruitment, training and retention of appropriately skilled and well-motivated staff is essential. The board is very concerned that this is not happening.
‘Yet again, the conditions which prisoners are confined, often two to a cramped cell, are inhumane and degrading.’
Mr Jones said he believed the staffing problems were due to these ‘diabolical conditions’ at the prison.
Sharing an example of how he was impacted by the staff issues while he was an inmate, Mr Jones said there was one point where he wasn’t allowed to leave his cell for two weeks even for a shower or exercise because staff ‘couldn’t or wouldn’t’ open his cell door.
The Prisons Service has said that maintenance work is being carried out at Wandsworth prison to help improve its safety.
The Met Police are continuing to search for Khalife and are urgently requesting the public’s help.
In a statement on Twitter they said: ‘We continue to appeal for the public’s help locating Daniel Khalife who escaped from Wandsworth prison yesterday.
‘Commander Murphy, who’s leading the investigation, has asked for anyone with information that may help us to call 999 urgently.’
Metro has contacted HMP Wandsworth for a comment.
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