Manfred D, 42, from Germany had finished his sentence for several armed bank robberies. When he collected his personal belongings, he was also given back his gun by prison officials.

The man is now due to appear in Krefeld Regional Court, Germany, having used the gun in an attempted bank robbery. Prison spokesman Werner Schwenzer said: "We don't know how this could have happened. A mistake was obviously made..."

Legal expert Dr Edmund Haferbeck said: "We cannot afford to make grave mistakes like this. Handing a weapon back to a bank robber is like handing him an invitation to carry out another offence."