'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

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The Independent Online

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."