'Skull Cracker' fugitive Michael Wheatley captured – hours after apparently robbing another building society

Officers said they were no longer looking for the 55-year-old, who was thought to be linked to a bank robbery in Surrey earlier today

The violent bank robber known as the "Skull Cracker" has been found and two men have been detained in custody, police have said.

Michael Wheatley, 55, was earlier suspected to have been involved in an armed robbery at a branch of the Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, and Surrey Police said they were working with Kent to investigate the incident.

A spokesperson for the force said: "Kent Police, in partnership with officers from the Metropolitan Police Service, have today arrested two men in east London on suspicion of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

"At 2pm on 7 May, two men, aged 55 and 53, were arrested in the Tower Hamlets area and are now in police custody. The 55-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion of being unlawfully at large."

Wheatley had gone missing while on temporary leave from an open prison in Kent on 3 May. He is due to serve 13 life sentences and gained his nickname for pistol-whipping his victims during armed raids.

Officers earlier said a man, described as in his late 40s or early 50s and wearing a dark woolly hat, threatened a member of staff at the building society in Surrey at 10.20am and escaped with a quantity of cash.

The robber used a handgun but left the staff-member unhurt, if shaken. He escaped the premises on foot, although officers were also investigating the possibility he may have got into a vehicle afterwards.

Wheatley, who prior to the incident in Sunbury had last been spotted on Tuesday just six miles away in Twickenham, was described as having links across the south-east of England.

He failed to return on Sunday to the Standford Hill prison on the Isle of Sheppey to continue serving his life term imposed in 2002 for raids on banks and building societies while on parole.

His escape prompted the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright, to launch a review into the ease with which high-profile criminals appeared to be able to abscond from open prisons. "We are not prepared to see public safety compromised," he said. "The system has been too lax up to now and we are changing that."

Tory MP Philip Davies said: "It is ludicrous that a prisoner serving a life sentence is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.

"As far as I am concerned whoever allowed him to be in an open prison should be sacked; it is a complete disgrace."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living