The Tories’ ‘prison escapes’ defence amid the Daniel Khalife manhunt isn’t that convincing in context

The Tories’ ‘prison escapes’ defence amid the Daniel Khalife manhunt isn’t that convincing in context

Related video: CCTV shows van thought to be carrying Daniel Khalife driving down busy London street

Anonymous Putney Business Centre CCTV

Amid the ongoing manhunt for fugitive terror suspect Daniel Khalife, Conservative cabinet ministers have been wheeling out a go-to soundbite to defend their approach to prison policy – except it’s missing some important context.

Khalife, 21, was awaiting trial in relation to terrorism offences and breaches of the Official Secrets Act when he escaped HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday, with police believing he left the prison by strapping himself to the underside of a food delivery van which was leaving the site.

The Metropolitan Police state that while he is not believed to pose a threat to the public, individuals should not approach him if they spot him, but instead call 999 immediately, quoting reference CAD 1631/06SEP23.

In the latest update from the force on Thursday, investigation lead Commander Dominic Murphy said: “Since [Wednesday], over 150 officers and staff have been working around the clock on apprehending Khalife.

“We have issued a nationwide alert that has resulted in increased security at our ports and borders, however currently there have not been any confirmed sightings. I recognise and am fully aware of the impact these measures are having on the public. We are working to ensure as minimal disruption as possible.

“It is crucial for the public to help us with this search and call us immediately if they have any information on the whereabouts of Khalife.”

Khalife, an ex-soldier, was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown steel toe cap boots, with connections to the Kingston area.

And while the police continue to hunt down the fugitive, the Tory government has been trying to tackle questions around their work over the past 13 years - what with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, saying HMP Wandsworth “really needs closing”.

On top of that, the prisons watchdog – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) finding the site “very overcrowded” with increasing violence in a progress report from June last year.

In an interview with ITV News on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “There are something like 4,000 more prison officers than there were in 2017.

“The facts show that during [Labour’s] 13 years in office, there were 10 times the number of escaped prisoners than you’ve seen in the 13 years of Conservative-led government.”

The same line was put out by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Sky News on Friday morning, telling presenter Niall Paterson: “Prison escapes were 10 times higher prior to us coming into office.”

As Paterson rightly pointed out in response: “Given the nature of the crimes that [Khalife] is accused of, I’m not so sure that that is the kind of defence I’d be pulling out the bag right now.”

Not to mention that it doesn’t really present the full picture of prison escapes between 1995 and 2022, available on the GOV.UK website.

In 1995/6, the number of prison escapes stood at 88, falling to 53 escapes in 1996/7, the last year of John Major’s government.

So naturally, Tony Blair inherited a high number when he entered Downing Street in 1997. His first year saw prison escapes at 33 incidents, and while there was some fluctuation in the figures over the 13 years leading up to 2010 (oh, and a change in PM in the form of Gordon Brown), just five escapes were reported in 2009/10 when Mr Brown left office.

Twitter/X users have since pointed out the inaccuracy:

Of course, neither Sunak nor Cleverly wanted to mention the high number of escapes in 1995/6 under Major, or the fact that Labour’s time in office saw them bring down the amount of escapes to single figures.

How convenient…

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