Labour is calling for an independent inquiry into how a prisoner was able to escape from a London jail while awaiting trial for terror offences.
Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, is alleged to have escaped from Wandsworth prison – one of the UK’s largest – under a food truck.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the government “has grave questions to answer” regarding staffing and national security arrangements.
She told Sky News that an internal prison service inquiry “is not sufficient” and Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, should launch an independent investigation.
“I hope he will announce some kind of independent investigation when he comes, I assume will come, to parliament this morning in order to answer on this,” Ms Cooper added.
Ms Cooper said the government needed to explain “issues around staffing and the arrangements for the national security prisoners and where they are being held”.
Most UK terror suspects are kept in southeast London’s HMP Belmarsh – a category A prison which is considered the UK’s most secure.
Pressed on how the government could be responsible for the escape, Ms Cooper pointed to court delays and a backlog which still remains after the COVID pandemic.
She said this had resulted in the number of prisoners on remand awaiting trial reaching a 50 year high, leading to overcrowding and “a risk that prisoners are being moved around”.
Khalife went missing in his cook’s uniform from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday, prompting extra security checks at major transport hubs.
There are fears the fugitive – who has been missing since 8am on Wednesday – might try to flee the country.
In media rounds this morning, science secretary Michelle Donelan was pressed on whether there is a link between an over-capacity and understaffed prison system and this recent escape.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme: “We can’t say why this happened until we’ve got the results of that investigation.
“I don’t think it’s helpful to get into a hypothetical of what was the cause, or what allowed this individual to evade the system and manage to escape.”
But earlier Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for the area, told Sky News there was an “ongoing issue with staffing levels” at Wandsworth Prison.
She said: “Now, there was one shift last December where on a night shift there were only seven staff members to look after 1,500 prison inmates.
“So what they had to do in order to make up the numbers was to actually ask people to stay and do a double shift to make up the shortfall.
“Ultimately, where you have a prison service which is woefully under staffed, under resourced, when you have crumbling buildings, when you have people not able to stay in sanitary conditions and you have staff off with their mental health, staff off with exhaustion, you are going to be more open to incidents like this.”
Khalife, 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, was discharged from the Army in May 2023.
He has denied the three charges against him.
He 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.
The jail was put on lockdown after he fled.