UK
07/05/2014 12:57 BST | Updated 07/05/2014 15:59 BST

'Skull Cracker' Michael Wheatley Police Probe Armed Robbery At Chelsea Building Society In Sunbury-On-Thames

BREAKING: 'Skull Cracker' Michael Wheatley Arrested In East London

Police are investigating whether an armed robbery in Surrey today is linked to the hunt for absconded prisoner Michael Wheatley.

Wheatley – a violent armed robber dubbed “the Skull Cracker” - went missing from HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey last week.

Wheatley, who was given 13 life sentences at the Old Bailey in 2002, earned his notorious nickname after pistol-whipping victims during the raids.

skull cracker

Michael Wheatley pictured during an armed raid in 2002

On Wednesday morning firearms officers were called to the scene of an armed robbery at the Chelsea Building Society at The Parade, Staines Road, in Sunbury-on-Thames.

A spokesman for Kent Police tells Huffington Post UK: "Officers searching for Michael Wheatley are aware of a robbery which took place today at a building society in the Surrey Police area. Kent Police are working closely with the Metropolitan Police service and Surrey Police as part of ongoing inquiries."

A Surrey Police spokesman confirmed: “At 10.20 today (Wednesday, 7 May) Surrey Police responded to reports of an armed robbery at a building society in Sunbury.

“Officers including specialist firearms officers are currently at the scene. The investigation is in its early stages. We are carrying out numerous inquiries to identify the offender and have linked in with Kent Police as part of these inquiries."

chelsea building society armed robbery

Police outside a branch of the Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey which was robbed on Wednesday

“Anyone with information or who witnessed the incident and has not already spoken to police should call 101.”

Wheatley was spotted in south West London on Monday, Scotland Yard said. Officers were called to an address in Twickenham but he was not found.

The 55-year-old raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 while on parole from a 27-year sentence for other robberies.

Wheatley admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm - a blank firing semi-automatic pistol - in October 2002. He is one of more than 1,200 open prison inmates serving an indeterminate sentence.

Earlier Sir David Calvert-Smith, chair of the Parole Board, which carries out risk assessments on prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released into the community, defended the decision to allow Wheatley out on day release.

"I think putting all prisoners in open conditions is an essential step to their integration. Otherwise, we as a society simply have to put up with paying for their accommodation in prison for the rest of their lives," he told BBC Breakfast.

"There has got to be a system which manages the transition from prison to the outside world."

Sir David said "decisions are not taken lightly" if a prisoner tells the board they have left their violent past behind them.

"We cross-examine the prisoner to see if he's simply paying lip service," he said.

"What we are not testing is whether he is likely to escape. What we are concerned with is the risk to the public of serious further crime."

Michael Wheatley aka the Skull Cracker