A VIOLENT fugitive who escaped from prison two days ago may have fled across the South by train.

That was the theory from senior detectives last night as they stepped up the hunt for dangerous criminal Michael Wheatley.

Dubbed the Skull Cracker, he absconded from an open prison after being jailed for a string of armed robberies including a terrifying ordeal at a Hampshire bank.

Last night police reiterated warnings for members of the public not to approach and confirmed a sighting of him in London.

Ministers have also promised to review the decision allowing him to leave HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, on a day release-licence.

As previously reported, the 55-year-old was given 13 life sentences in 2002 for a string of bank raids including the Halifax in Bishop's Waltham.

During the ordeal he hit terrified cashier Kathleen Knights over the head with a gun before running off with an undisclosed amount of cash.

She was taken to Southampton General Hospital for her injuries.

Wheatley was released on a temporary licence from HMP Standford Hill on Saturday where staff raised the alarm at 6pm after he failed to return.

Yesterday detectives confirmed a sighting of him at in Twickenham at 8pm on Monday night.

They believe he boarded the 9.20am high speed train from Sittingbourne, which was heading to Stratford International station.

Officers also searched properties in the Strawberry Hill area of Twickenham but left empty-handed.

Detective chief inspector Ann Lisseman, is leading a team of specialist officers working in partnership with Kent Police, Metropolitan Police, Hertfordshire Constabulary and British Transport Police.

She said: “'Our inquiries are on-going and we have several leads to follow.

''We are aware that Wheatley has past associations in Ireland, Cheshire and North Wales and we are working with numerous police forces as part of our efforts to find him.

''People who know the whereabouts of him are asked not to approach him but call the police via 999.''

Yesterday Policing Minister Damian Green told the House of Commons that the number of criminals absconding from prisons has reduced, but said: “I hope you are reassured we are already in the process of making conditions for those sent to an open prison tougher, both in terms of those qualifying to go to open prisons and also the punishments received for those who break the terms.''