Skull Cracker Michael Wheatley was allowed out of jail despite a stark warning put on his file days before he went on the run.
A worried official wrote “Do you really want to do this?” on documents sanctioning the armed robber’s day release.
Today we can reveal the thug was only transferred to an open prison after probation officers insisted he should NOT be allowed out on town visits.
Yet jail bosses ignored their fears over Wheatley who had escaped twice before during jail terms in the 80s and 90s, carrying out raids on the run both times.
The blunder has emerged as a Sunday Mirror investigation reveals how soaring numbers of dangerous lags including lifers are now being held in open jails because of overcrowded prisons – more than TREBLE the number in 2009.
Many regularly abscond – and at least three killers are currently on the run.
Dubbed the Skull Cracker because he pistol-whipped victims, Wheatley, 55, was serving 13 life sentences for armed robbery when he was first moved to an open prison last August.
He was returned to a secure jail months later after staff raised concerns about his behaviour on day release.
Despite this he was sent to Stanford Hill Open Prison, in Kent, in February – with probation staff recommending he must be kept inside.
Wheatley was let out and absconded last Saturday. Police caught him on Wednesday and he later appeared in court accused of armed robbery at a building society in Sunbury-on-Thames – the same branch he was convicted of raiding in July 2001.
His escape has infuriated prison experts worried at the government’s attitude towards the penal system.
Prison Officers’ Association general secretary Steve Gillan said: “How Wheatley could be be deemed suitable for open conditions, never mind temporary release, beggars belief. There is no justification for his allocation into open conditions. His failed record speaks volumes.
“This case demonstrates the system of release on temporary licence is flawed. The public are being put in danger by individuals who are quite clearly not fit for open conditions.”
“This Government needs to decide which is more important – saving money in our prisons or the safety of the public.”
Criminal Justice expert Harry Fletcher said: “Open jails are needed to help rehabilitation, but prisoners should only be allocated following a full risk assessment.
“In this case staff seem to have been worried about further offending and absconding. There is a history of running while on day release. The issue is a failure of government to provide enough secure places and pressure on staff to move prisoners through the system.”
Figures obtained by the Sunday Mirror show a total of 1,242 — prisoners serving life, or an indeterminate sentence, were moved to open prisons in 2013. In 2009, the year before the coalition took power, the figure was only 393.
More than 1,600 lags were given day release last year, including 611 jailed for life for murder and other serious offences. Mr Gillan added: “The POA has been warning for some time that the prison closure programme, along with budget cuts, is a recipe for disaster.
“This Government’s policies in relation to prisons are reckless and gambling with public safety.
The Parole Board admitted it recommended Wheatley be transferred to open jail last August but said the final decision was “a matter for the Secretary of State”.
The Ministry of Justice said officials would only depart from Parole Board recommendations under “exceptional circumstances”. Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said: “We are not prepared to see public safety compromised, the system has been too lax up to now and we are changing that.
“In future prisoners let out on temporary licence will be tagged, more strictly risk assessed and tested in the community under strict conditions before release. “There will be a full review of this case.”