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'Skull Cracker' hunt moves to London

By Jamie Grierson

A violent armed robber dubbed the 'Skull Cracker' is believed to have travelled to London by train after absconding from an open prison.

Michael Wheatley (55) was released on a temporary licence from HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, on Saturday, and is thought to have boarded the 9.20am high speed train from Sittingbourne, which was heading to Stratford International station, Kent Police said.

Wheatley, originally from Limehouse in east London, earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, including a 73-year-old woman, during the raids.

The Old Bailey heard at the time that he would often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head, leaving many mentally anguished. His raids netted him more than £45,000.

He admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm – a blank firing semi-automatic pistol –in October 2002.

A 999 call was made to police on Saturday when Wheatley failed to return to the prison at 6pm and a specialist team of officers, headed by detective chief inspector Ann Lisseman, have pieced together a timeline of his movements since his disappearance.

It is believed that Wheatley travelled by train from Sittingbourne to the London area, police said.

Officers are keen to hear from anyone who travelled on that train who thinks they may have seen Wheatley.

Officers also responded to a confirmed sighting of Wheatley at 7.55pm on Monday at a property in the Strawberry Hill area of Twickenham.

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