Monday 23 September 2019

Sightings of drone 'could have been police craft'

Violated: Video grab taken from Sky News of Elaine Kirk and Paul Gait speaking outside their home in Crawley, West Sussex. The innocent couple questioned by police over the drone disruption at Gatwick Airport have said they feel “completely violated” by the experience. Photo: PA
Violated: Video grab taken from Sky News of Elaine Kirk and Paul Gait speaking outside their home in Crawley, West Sussex. The innocent couple questioned by police over the drone disruption at Gatwick Airport have said they feel “completely violated” by the experience. Photo: PA

Gareth Davies

Some of the drone sightings which kept Gatwick Airport shut for 36 hours may have been reports of Sussex Police's own aircraft, the force's chief constable has admitted.

Police received 115 reports of sightings in the area, including 92 which have been confirmed as coming from "credible people", Sussex Police's Chief Constable Giles York said.

But the force launched its own drone to search for what officers believed at the time to be malicious aircraft deliberately being flown above the airfield to intentionally force the airport to shut down.

Last week, the force conceded there may never have been a drone in the air, insisting officers were "working with human beings".

But a Sussex Police spokeswoman said: "Disruption at Gatwick Airport was caused categorically by illegal drone activity and not as a result of any use of police drones.

"No police drones were in operation at the start of the incident and were not launched at all unless in response and only when the airport was closed."

Mr York told the BBC's Today programme: "Of course, we will have launched our own Sussex Police drones at the time with a view to investigate, with a view to engage, with a view to survey the area looking for the drone, so there could be some level of confusion there."

Two drones found by police near Gatwick Airport have now also been ruled out of involvement in the incident which disrupted hundreds of flights before Christmas.

Sussex Police's most senior officer told the BBC police have searched 26 potential launch sites for drones near the airport but do not believe they have found the drone thought to have been flown near runways on December 19 and 20.

"I don't think we have found the drone responsible for this at this time," said the Chief Constable.

"I think the fact that we have found two drones so far as a result of this does show the extent of the search that has been carried out. I am led to believe that we are able to rule those drones out of this investigation at this time."

Despite there being no known photographs nor videos of the suspected drone, Mr York remains adamant there was at least one circling Gatwick before Christmas.

He said he was "absolutely certain that there was a drone flying throughout the period that the airport was closed".

Mr York confirmed that military technology was now in place at Gatwick, though he declined to identify the nature of the equipment.

"The systems that are in place today are dramatically different to what was in place a week ago," he told Today.

Asked whether he could rule out a repeat of last week's disruption, Mr York said: "I don't think you can ever rule out anything happening again.

"But what we can say is what is at the heart of this is ensuring it is safe for the aircraft to take off and that's the different position that Gatwick Airport finds itself in today."

Sussex Police has been heavily criticised for its handling of the Gatwick incident, in particular the arrest of two innocent West Sussex residents.

Mr York said he was "really sorry" for Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk, who said they felt "violated" after being questioned for 36 hours in custody before being ruled out of involvement in the disruption of Gatwick.

However, he said he was "convinced that the grounds for arrest - the lawful suspicion - in the first instance was well-founded".

The chief constable told Today: "I'm really sorry for what he [Paul Gait] has experienced and the feeling of violation.

"I am really sorry for what he went through, but the reason why we held him was so that we could dispel everything in the first instance. What might have been worse as an experience for him would have been to be released under investigation still.

"We are able to exhaust all our lines of inquiry on that first instance and, however hard it is, able to release him from police custody saying he is no longer a suspect in this line of inquiry.

"That's why we took the time - in order to allow him the best opportunity to put his life back on the rails."

© Telegraph

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