6 May 2014

‘Skull cracker’ spotted in south west London

The violent armed robber Michael Wheatley, dubbed the “skull cracker”, who went missing after being temporarily released from jail, is sighted in south west London, Scotland Yard said.

Police said they were called to an address in Twickenham following a sighting of the 55-year-old, but he has not been found.

Wheatley was given 13 life sentences in 2002 for a series of brutal raids on banks, and earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, including a 73-year-old woman, during the raids.

He was temporarily released from prison on Monday, but failed to return causing police to start searching.

Scotland Yard said on Tuesday morning that they were called to an address just before 8pm on Monday evening, but Kent Police failed to find him after a search of the area.

The news of the sighting comes as the Prisons Minister said an urgent review was under way after Wheatley failed to return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said there will be a full review of the case, including an assessment of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) process. Mr Wright said temporary licence can be an important tool to help offenders reintegrate into communities but that “it should not be an automatic right”.

Ministers have said there will be a toughening-up of the licence scheme so that prisoners are subjected to stricter risk assessments and tagged.

A police spokesman said Wheatley, originally from Limehouse in east London, has links across south east England.

Scotland Yard has urged anyone with information, or who sees Wheatley, not to approach him and to contact 999.

Wheatley admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm – a blank firing semi-automatic pistol – in October 2002.

The robberies between June 2001 and April the following year were mainly on small branches in areas Wheatley knew, ranging from Southampton in Hampshire to Royston in Hertfordshire. The first was just three weeks after he was paroled from his first prison term.

As the robberies continued, so did the violence he used towards staff and customers. In March 2002 he pistol-whipped a 73-year-old woman and a building society manager.

The Old Bailey heard at the time that he would often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head, leaving many mentally anguished.
His raids netted him more than £45,000.

He was given a five-year sentence on each of the firearms offences to run concurrently with the life sentences on each of the robbery charges. He was ordered to serve a minimum of eight years before being eligible for consideration for parole.