Wheatley, dubbed the Skull Cracker because he pistol-whipped victims, was recommended for transfer to
Armed robber Michael Wheatley was allowed out of open prison despite officials warning six months ago he would abscond.
That revelation came amid a war of words between the Parole Board and Justice Minister Chris Grayling over the serial crook’s five days on the run .
Wheatley, dubbed the Skull Cracker because he pistol-whipped victims, was recommended for transfer to open prison by the Parole Board last August and put in Standford Hill prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.
Four months later, officials ordered that the 55-year-old be returned to closed conditions because “concerns over his behaviour” meant it was feared he would flee.
But Wheatley was allowed back to Standford Hill in March, from where he absconded on Saturday after being released on a temporary licence – his THIRD jail break.
The argument over exactly why he qualified for day release has intensified.
The Parole Board admitted it recommended that Wheatley was “suitable for a transfer to open conditions” in August 2013 – but it added: “The final decision and the arrangements/date for the transfer were a matter for the Secretary of State.”
The Ministry of Justice replied: “There is a clear policy in place that officials would only depart from the Parole Board’s recommendation in exceptional circumstances.”
Wheatley, who was recaptured in dramatic fashion in Bow, East London on Wednesday, was given 13 life sentences in 2002 and ordered to serve at least eight years.
That meant his suitability for a move to an open prison was considered annually after 2010.
Criminal justice expert Harry Fletcher said: “Questions need to be answered about why this man was given temporary release when he had a history of absconding .”
Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said: “Obviously somebody with 13 life sentences getting day release seems contradictory.
"Certainly for me, I think life should mean life, on the whole.
“I am in the camp that says people should remain in for their full term.
“Clearly this was somebody who was violent – that is why they are intended to be kept in.
“The prisons and the minister will have to work out what is best to do with policy.”
Wheatley is being questioned over suspicions he robbed the Chelsea Building Society branch in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, on Wednesday – the same branch he was convicted of raiding in July 2001.
He had gone on the run twice in the past and each time staged a series of violent robberies before being returned to jail.