'Skull Cracker' Michael Wheatley 'strikes again' and escapes on foot as police respond to armed robbery in Surrey

Police say offender in Sunbury-on-Thames closely resembles fugitive bank robber

The fugitive bank robber Michael Wheatley, known as the "Skull Cracker", appears to have struck again while on the run from the police.

Officers said a man, described as in his late 40s or early 50s and wearing a dark woolly hat, threatened a member of staff at a branch of Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey at 10.20am today 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 are also investigating the possibility he may have got into a vehicle afterwards.

Surrey Police said that due to "the nature of the offence and elements of the description" they are working with Kent Police on their enquiries into the whereabouts of Wheatley, 55, who went missing while on temporary leave from an open prison in Kent.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Raymer, of Surrey Police, said: "Officers were at the scene within minutes of the emergency call and are doing everything possible to find the offender including recovering CCTV from the premises and surrounding area.

"Anyone who was in this area at the time and may have seen the offender is urged to contact police with information if they have not done so already by calling 101."

Police stressed that while they are investigating a link to Wheatley, the identity of the offender in Sunbury had not been confirmed.

Wheatley, who was last spotted on Tuesday just six miles away in Twickenham, is due to serve 13 life sentences and gained his nickname for pistol-whipping his victims during armed raids.

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. He has links across the south-east of England.

His escape has prompted the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright, to launch a review. "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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee