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09 September 2023

Escaped prisoner’s military training works against police, says Hunted star

09 September 2023

A retired police sergeant who stars on Channel 4’s Hunted series has said the UK has the “best military in the world”, which could work against the Metropolitan Police as officers attempt to find a former soldier who escaped from prison.

Mel Thomas, who is a ground hunter on the popular TV programme, said it will be down to the “resilience” of terror suspect Daniel Khalife, but the hot UK weather will make it more comfortable if he is hiding “in plain sight”.

Mr Thomas, 54, who served in the police for 30 years, told the PA news agency: “What you’ve got to consider is that we consider ourselves to have the best military in the world, so he’s had the best training – you can’t dispute that.

“Because you’re no longer in the Army or in the armed forces, it doesn’t mean you become untrained overnight, that experience is always with you.

“What the organisations have got against them is it’s good weather, it’s not cold at night, so even sleeping rough is not going to be uncomfortable.

“You could happily find somewhere comfortable and, as an ex-military individual, he’ll be used to sleeping outside.

“What will come into play more than anything else will be the individual’s resilience.”

Mr Thomas said it is a “needle in the haystack” case, and the key to finding Khalife is how quickly members of the public report potential sightings.

“The biggest thing is 70 million separate CCTV you have in the country, and that’s the members of the public,” he told PA.

“It’s all about people dropping those little clues, those traces that the organisations can pick up on and follow. It’s very similar to Hunted and Celebrity Hunted.

“If there’s a sighting in a town and we get to that town very quickly, and those people haven’t moved away because they don’t know they’ve been spotted, that gives us more opportunities to catch them.

“And it’s the same when someone is on the run.”

Mr Thomas said the Metropolitan Police cannot rule out the fugitive getting a plane, train or sailing further away, depending on the network he had in place if the escape was pre-planned, as the head of the Met has suggested.

Khalife, 21, is believed to have escaped from HMP Wandsworth in south-west London on Wednesday by strapping himself to the bottom of a delivery lorry after leaving the prison kitchen in a cook’s uniform.

Mr Thomas told PA: “It does take some guts to be able to think about crawling underneath a vehicle and holding on it, it’s the kind of thing that you only see in films, it’s not the kind of thing you imagine somebody would do.

“You have to remember you’ve got an exhaust system underneath that vehicle which is going to get pretty hot.

“It would have been hot already actually travelling to the premises itself, so for someone to think about crawling under and hiding under a vehicle… you’ve got to go over things like traffic-calming measures, he could have been easily crushed.”

The retired police officer, who was awarded the King’s Police Medal for distinguished service, said questions will be asked about the “level of security in the establishment” and it is now about “learning lessons”.

Mr Thomas added: “What I would say to anybody is not to compromise themselves by assisting a fugitive unlawfully at large, because obviously there are sanctions and penalties for doing that.

“What I would say to the individual is more often than not, these situations only end up one way, and they’d be better off just giving themselves up and handing themselves in.”

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