Police scaled back an overnight search of a London park as the hunt for terror suspect prison escapee Daniel Khalife went into a third day.
Khalife, 21, went missing from category B prison HMP Wandsworth at about 8am on Wednesday, after clinging on to the underside of a delivery lorry.
The head of the Metropolitan Police said the escape was "clearly pre-planned" and questioned whether it might have been an "inside job".
The force carried out a search operation in Richmond Park in south west London overnight on Friday, but have subsequently scaled back the search there.
Hours after the park was re-opened on Friday, police stopped a van which Khalife is believed to have clung to the bottom of to escape prison.
Video footage on Friday showed police, including a force sniffer dog, searching a lorry in Putney, south-west London.
Richmond Park is about three miles away from HMP Wandsworth, where the former soldier, who is reportedly accused of gathering information for Iran, went missing from in his cook’s uniform on Wednesday.
Watch: Police search Richmond Park for escaped terror suspect
Strapping was found on the underside of a Bidfood delivery vehicle which police stopped just over an hour after it left the prison, with officers suggesting Khalife held on to the underside of the lorry to escape.
On Friday, Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said the escape was “clearly pre-planned”.
He told LBC Radio the escape was “unlikely to be something you do on the spur of the moment”.
Asked if police are looking into whether it was an “inside job”, the commissioner said: “It is a question. Did anyone inside the prison help him? Other prisoners, guard staff? Was he helped by people outside the walls or was it simply all of his own creation?”
Asked whether he was surprised to learn that the terror suspect was only in a Category B prison, Sir Mark said it did “seem odd” on first inspection.
He said the police hunt is a “massive operation” involving “well into three figures of officers” as well as help from forces around the country and from Border Force.
“At the moment we are still really keen to get any reports from members of the public,” he said.
Meanwhile, advanced security checks at UK borders are likely to continue into the weekend in the hunt for Khalife.
Pictures from the Port of Dover along the M20 near Ashford in Kent on Thursday showed snaking lines of lorries as security checks were carried out.
There are fears the fugitive, who was awaiting trial after allegedly planting a fake bomb at an RAF base and gathering information that might be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK, might try to flee the country.
He denies the charges.
Extra checks were carried out at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London, while long queues and delays have been reported at Manchester and Stansted airports.
Khalife manhunt: latest news
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Investigation into escape
The government said on Thursday an independent investigation will take place into how Khalife escaped.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, justice secretary Alex Chalk said an “additional independent investigation” into the incident will take place “in due course”.
Chalk said he had spoken to prison service leaders immediately after Khalife’s escape to establish what known about it.
He said: “I made clear then and I reiterate now that no stone must be left unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened. Who was on duty that morning? In what roles, ranging from the kitchen to the prison gate? What protocols were in place? Were they followed?”
On Thursday, chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor warned that staff shortages were “the source of many problems” at the site.
Taylor said it was “concerning when anybody escapes from prison” and they are “now very rare”, but that concerns at Wandsworth have been flagged over a number of years.
He added that the nature of the allegations levelled at Khalife made this case “extremely concerning”.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Taylor said it “should be standard practice” for vehicles entering and leaving the prison to be checked and that a prisoner has to earn a “certain level of trust” in order to be allowed to work in a kitchen.
He said: “Something obviously went wrong in terms of security, and that will come out over time."
Watch: Independent investigation into terror suspect's escape to take place
How did he escape?
On Thursday evening, Met Police Commander Dominic Murphy set out the route taken by the food service van which Khalife used to escape and appealed to the public for help.
He said the van Khalife was believed to be strapped to the bottom of left HMP Wandsworth at 7.32am on Wednesday. He was declared missing at 7.50am.
Police were then notified at 8.15am and the van was stopped on Upper Richmond Road near to the junction of Carlton Drive, in East Putney, at 8.37am.
Strapping was found under the van, with officers suggesting the 21-year-old held on to the underside of the van to escape.
Commander Murphy 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.”
He 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.”
Khalife went missing in his cook’s uniform and was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, red and white chequered trousers and brown, steel toe-cap boots, the Metropolitan Police said, and is slim and 6ft 2in, with short brown hair.
Food service company Bidford, which is the catering supplier for prisons, said it was co-operating with police.
What is he accused of?
Khalife, who was discharged from the Army in May 2023, was formerly stationed at Beacon Barracks, Beaconside, Stafford.
The barracks are home to the Royal Corps of Signals 1st Signal Brigade, the Defence Electronics Agency, the RAF Joint Helicopter Command’s Tactical Supply Wing and No 22 Group air force cadets.
According to the Daily Telegraph, he described his role on social media as being a computer specialist with skills including information technology and system administration.
He is accused of eliciting or trying to elicit information that could be useful for a terrorist on 2 August 2021, and breaching the Official Secrets Act by gathering information that could be useful to an enemy between 1 May 2019 and 6 January 2022.
He is also accused of a bomb hoax – in which he allegedly placed “three canisters with wires on a desk in his accommodation” with the intention of inducing in another a belief this was “likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or damage to property”.
He has denied the three charges against him.
A trial date has been set for 13 November at Woolwich Crown Court.