HMP Wandsworth: An escaped prisoner is causing a row over the state of public services

The prisoner escape from HMP Wandsworth is fast becoming the latest row over the state of public services.

Former soldier Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, was being held awaiting trial for planting a fake bomb and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK. He has denied each of the three charges against him.

He is thought to have snuck out of the kitchen and clung onto the bottom of a delivery van to make his escape, sparking a major police hunt with ports and airports being placed on alert and some passengers facing delays as extra checks are carried out.

HMP Wandsworth is a category B prison, the second highest level of security.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has held an urgent call with the prison governor and senior staff in the prison service to seek assurances about what is being done to ensure the jail is secure.

But Labour has demanded that the government “urgently” explains how a terror suspect managed to escape.

Newly-appointed shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood told broadcasters: “I think the government has very serious questions to answer.

“We know that the criminal justice system after 13 years of Tory government is in a state of disrepair. We know that there are huge problems with prisons and prison places in particular.

“And as we’ve seen, there is now a terror suspect on the loose having escaped from Wandsworth Prison. So big questions for the government to answer. Frankly Rishi Sunak needs to get a grip.”

Local Labour sources say they’ve been raising concerns about understaffing at the prison for a while.

Across the prison estate there has been a well documented recruitment crisis.

Figures for prison officers on shift at HMP Wandsworth on December 10 2022, requested by Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan:

Credit: Twitter @DrRosena

Wandsworth is one of the most crowded prisons in the country.

Yet look at the staffing levels. Around 70% staffing on a typical day last December.

And note the ‘payment plus’ figure includes staff who’d had to pull a double back-to-back shift to keep the prison operating.

These statistics aren't new. It’s long been known about.

The growing difficulty for the Conservative government is that every single failure is now being seen through a prism of under-investment in public services - whether ministers feel that is a fair and accurate depiction or not.

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