A 55 year old violent armed robber’ in the United Kingdom, Michael Wheatley, nicknamed ‘the Skull Cracker, appears to have jail-break as he refused to return to prison after being temporarily allowed out.
Wheatley was said to have raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 and has been on parole from previous 27-year sentence for other robberies.
He was given 13 life sentences at the Old Bailey in 2002, did not return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, after he was allowed out on Saturday.
Wheatley was said to have raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 while on parole from previous 27-year sentence for other robberies.
He earned his notorious nickname after pistol-whipping victims during the raids.
Jeremy Wright, the prisons minister, said there will be a “full review” of the case, looking at the decision to grant Wheatley temporary licence to leave prison.
The case raises concerns about the way day-release schemes have been operating, he said.
“We are not prepared to see public safety compromised, the system has been too lax up to now and we are changing that,” he said.
In future when prisoners are let out on temporary licence, they will be tagged, subject to tougher risk assessments and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released.
“Temporary release can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate but it should not be an automatic right,” he said.
Conservative backbencher Philip Davies, said that whoever allowed Wheatley out of prison was “a berk. It is completely ludicrous that a serving life-sentence prisoner is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.
“As far as I am concerned, whoever allowed him to be in an open prison should be sacked.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “This is now a matter for the police and we are supporting them in their investigation.
A spokesman for Kent Police confirmed a specialist team was combing the South East for Wheatley, who is known to have links across the region.
Officers are understood to be examining CCTV footage for clues and working with other forces to track down Wheatley, who is originally from Limehouse in east London.
The public have been advised not to approach the escaped convict and to call police with any information that could lead to his arrest.
Standford Hill prison, which has housed famous inmates including disgraced MPs Jonathan Aitken and Bob Devine, faced criticism in September last year when a convicted murderer walked out and went to stay with a friend.
Police tracked down 43-year-old Michael Bruce, who had been jailed for life at the Old Bailey in London in February 1997, three days after he failed to answer a roll call.
And in January last year, the prison faced further scrutiny when three prisoners walked out in a single week.
Wheatley, described as a “career criminal”, launched his most recent series of raids just three weeks after being released on parole.
When asked his occupation by the custody officer after being arrested, he replied: “Armed robber.”
He later admitted 13 charges of robber and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm.
His robberies were mainly on small branches in areas he knew, ranging from Southampton to Royston in Hertfordshire and netted him more than £45,000.
As the robberies continued, the violence he used towards staff and customers worsened.
In March 2002 he pistol whipped a 73-year-old woman and a building society manager.
Sentencing him that yeat, Judge Michael Mettyear said: “You terrified staff and customers alike. Your victims were terrified and left shocked and dazed.
“I am sure they will never forget their experience at your hands. Some may never fully recover.”
He had been released from jail on in June 6, 2001, from 27 years handed out in three separate sentences. He had previously gone on the run from two of them.
He was locked up for nine years in the eighties for a single post office raid. In 1988 he was released to attend hospital but failed to return.
It was the start of a robbery spree in which he raided nine targets for which he was jailed for 16 years in 1989, to run consecutively to the nine years.
The 16 years was later reduced on appeal to 11 years, but still consecutive to the nine-year term.
In 1992 he went on the run again after he was released to see an optician and never returned.
This time he committed eight armed robberies for which he was sentenced to seven years in 1993 consecutive to the 20 years he was previously serving. His raid netted him more than 45,000 Pounds.