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Criminal 'Skull Cracker' wins appeal on life sentence for armed robbery as a fugitive


Michael Wheatley, dubbed the "Skull Cracker", was caught after going on the run for the third time

Michael Wheatley, dubbed the "Skull Cracker", was caught after going on the run for the third time

Michael Wheatley, dubbed the "Skull Cracker", was caught after going on the run for the third time

A professional criminal nicknamed Skull Cracker has won a sentence appeal, but leading judges have stressed that he still faces a "very considerable period" behind bars.

Armed robber Michael Wheatley was jailed for life in May for a raid on a building society while on the run from prison.

At a Court of Appeal hearing in London, he successfully challenged an order that he must serve at least 10 years in jail before becoming eligible to apply for release on parole.

He watched proceedings via video-link from prison, as Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Cranston and Mr Justice Knowles reduced his tariff to eight years.

But Mr Justice Cranston, who announced the decision, said the court wanted to emphasise two points.

The first was that "this was a very serious offence and the fact that it occurred when the appellant was on day release must clearly be a matter for public concern".

The second was that "this is not the point at which the appellant in this case will be released".

He added: "We must not trespass on the role of the parole board in determining when the appellant will be released.

"Things change over time.

"But this is the earliest point at which the parole board can even consider the appellant for release.

"Given all that we have said about this man and his life of crime and the seriousness of this offence, we think that the appellant will have to spend a very considerable period in prison before he will be near persuading the parole board that he will be safe to be released."

Wheatley was being hunted for absconding from Standford Hill prison in Kent when he pulled a handgun on staff at the Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, in a case which sparked a political row over the day release of dangerous criminals.

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He was already serving life for a string of raids when he disappeared after being let out of the Category D Isle of Sheppey unit for the day on May 3.

A prolific armed robber for more than 35 years, he was given his nickname after pistol-whipping innocent bystanders during previous crimes.

Guildford Crown Court heard in May that one of the robberies for which Wheatley was jailed at the Old Bailey in October 2002 was the same branch in the well-to-do Surrey commuter belt town he targeted on May 7.

Judge Christopher Chritchlow told him his was a ''special case'' because of his prolific record of violent armed robberies and reoffending after being released from prison.

The judge told him: ''You went to the same branch which you robbed in about 2001.

"You therefore deliberately targeted this branch and planned this raid.

"You knew exactly what you were doing, having committed such crimes so many times.''

Wheatley was arrested in the Tower Hamlets area of east London and all but £850 of the £18,350 he stole was recovered.

The gun, real or imitation, was never found, and he was sentenced as if it was an imitation weapon.

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