Chair of Prison Officer’s Association warns of a ‘crisis’

Staff sickness may have contributed to Daniel Khalife’s alleged prison escape, a new documentary has revealed. 

Former British soldier Khalife, 21, allegedly fled Wandsworth prison in London on August 31, launching a national manhunt.

On the day Khalife is said to have escaped, 80 prison officers – about 40 per cent of all staff –  failed to turn up for duty.

Chair of the Prison Officer’s Association, Mark Fairhurst, says that staff absences in prisons are ‘in crisis’.

Speaking in a new documentary, Britain: On the Sick?, which airs tonight,  Mr Fairhurst said that ‘retention’ is the biggest issue among prison staff. 

Chair of the Prison Officer's Association, Mark Fairhurst (pictured) said high levels of staff sickness in the prison workforce is the 'biggest crisis I've ever known in the last 30 years'

Mr Fairhurst, a serving prison officer in Liverpool, said tackling staff sickness is ‘the biggest crisis I’ve ever known in the last 30 years.’

After Khalife’s alleged escape, Fairhurst travelled to Wandsworth prison to check on staff morale – but his findings were deplorable.

‘I was in Wandsworth a couple of weeks ago after the escape to see how everyone was, and they should’ve had 130 prison officers on duty to look after 1600 [inmates]; they only had 94 [staff].’

Not only had the number of staff members dwindled, but morale was low too. Staff felt ‘unsupported by senior leaders and the government,’ Mark added.

‘They feel under pressure to provide the routine, but there’s not enough of them to do that.’

In line with Mark’s findings, Wandsworth prison received the lowest possible rating in their last inspection.

A 2021 inspection found that 30 per cent of staff were either off sick or didn’t turn up for work. 

Despite concerning statistics, the government rejected the idea that staff shortages played a part in Khalife’s escape, according to the documentary.

40 percent of the workforce were absent on the day of Daniel Khalife's (pictured) alleged escape from Wandsworth prison

Wandsworth prison in south London prison (pictured) received the lowest possible rating in the latest inspection

Mark added that the issue of staff sickness is not just restricted to Wandsworth, but is happening across the UK.

‘This is the biggest crisis I’ve ever known in the last 30 years’, Mark said.

‘For example, last weekend in a Liverpool prison we only had 31 prison officers to look after over 800 inmates… We should’ve had at least 70, we had 40 on the sick.’

For Mark, the problem boils down to holding on to staff members.  

He said: ‘I’d say at the moment the retention is the biggest issue.’ 

With a high number of young recruits entering the prison workforce, Mark believes that additional levels of care must be put in place. 

In addition to high levels of staff absences in Wandsworth prison, Mark also foun that staff morale had dwindled

Mark said: ‘And of course when you recruit new recruits who are often very young in the late teens or early twenties, with a lack of support for them, to nurture them, they will go sick.’ 

He continued: ‘The staffing levels are simply not safe. 

‘The problem is, the longer hours you work in a violent and hostile workplace, the more burn out you get, the more susceptible you are to making mistakes. 

The prison officer concluded: ‘You don’t get support from senior leaders, that’s the problem.’ 

Britain: On The Sick?- Tonight, on ITV Thursday at 8:30pm 

Ex-British Army soldier Daniel Khalife will be tried in July for ‘breaking out of Wandsworth prison and passing information to Iran’ 

Former British Army soldier Daniel Khalife is set to stand trial in July on four charges including escaping from Wandsworth prison and allegedly passing information to Iran.

The 22-year-old was due to go on trial on November 13 but at a hearing on Friday Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said that was ‘wholly unrealistic’ and put the case back.

Khalife is charged under the Official Secrets Act of gathering information that might be useful to an enemy of the UK between May 1 2019 and January 6 2022.

The prosecution alleges Khalife passed sensitive material to Iranian intelligence and had more material in his possession for that purpose, which he denies.

The charge against him says that for a ‘purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state’ he ‘obtained, circulated, recorded, published or communicated to any other person notes, documents or information’ which might be or were intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy.

Daniel Khalife appeared in court via video link to be told he will stand trial in July next year

Khalife has been charged with escaping from Wandsworth prison on September 6, while being held on remand

An earlier court sketch of Daniel Khalife after his first appearance on a charge of escaping from Wandsworth Prison. He appeared at the Old Bailey today via video link

A second charge alleges Khalife elicited information about armed forces personnel on August 2 2021.

This allegedly relates to him ‘obtaining personal information from the MoD (Ministry of Defence) Joint Personnel Administration system of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

He is also charged with perpetrating a bomb hoax on or before January 2.

The charge says he placed ‘three canisters with wires on a desk in his accommodation’ to spark fears it was ‘likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or damage to property’.

While on remand on those charges at Wandsworth prison in south London, it is alleged Khalife escaped on September 6 by strapping himself to the underside of a food delivery lorry.

He was arrested on a canal towpath in west London on September 9 after being pulled off a push bike by a plain-clothes counter-terrorism officer.

The defendant has denied all the charges against him.

On Friday, he appeared at the Old Bailey by video link from Belmarsh prison wearing a blue and yellow jumpsuit.

During the hearing, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said the planned trial date at Woolwich Crown Court in November was ‘wholly unrealistic’.

He set a further hearing for December 21, when a new trial date at either Woolwich Crown Court or the Old Bailey will be discussed.

Khalife, who spoke only to confirm his identity, was further remanded into custody.


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