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A couple who were mistakenly detained now suspect the police of covering up the Gatwick drone incident to protect their own reputation.

Former Gatwick drone incident suspects: “Police try to cover up failure”

At the end of 2018, London Gatwick Airport was closed for several days due to a number of drone sightings. A search was made for both drones and their operators, but no evidence was provided for the drone flights. A couple who were mistakenly detained now suspect the police of covering up the Gatwick drone incident to protect their own reputation.

Former Gatwick drone incident suspects: “Police try to cover up failure”

Shutdown

The chaotic shutdown of air traffic started just before Christmas, normally the busiest time of the year. Drones are said to have been seen in the vicinity of the airport. As a precaution, all incoming air traffic was diverted. Hundreds of outbound flights were canceled, resulting in tens of thousands of passengers. The damage quickly ran into the millions.

Initially, Sussex Police were investigating the matter. Later, the army was also called in. Drone detection equipment was hastily installed and a frenetic search for those allegedly responsible began. But apart from the witness statements, no evidence was found that any drones had flown around at all.

A couple who were mistakenly detained now suspect the police of covering up the Gatwick drone incident to protect their own reputation.

Suspects of the Gatwick drone incident

Two days later, a couple was arrested on suspicion of ‘criminal use of drones’. It was about couple Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk, who lived near the airport and were known in the area for their drone hobby. Further investigation revealed that the two had nothing to do with the Gatwick drone incident. The couple then sued the police. That led to a $253,000 indemnity.

During the investigation, the Sussex Police investigated 96 possible suspects. Gradually everyone was crossed off that list. However, the investigative report was never made public. Even a request for information from a news organization was rejected: according to the police, the report would contain confidential information.

Cover up of the Gatwick drone incident

However, married couple Kirk and Gait think there is another reason that the report should not be made public. The couple told the BBC:

“We don’t think this is about lessons learned and preventing harm in the future, but about protecting the reputation of the Sussex police from scrutiny and criticism of our pain, and the illegality and injustice that occurred to us. This most recent failure to deal honestly and openly with us is a missed opportunity to give us a measure of truth and reconciliation that we owe us.”

The couple is supported by Conservative MP Henry Smith, who himself represents the Gatwick region. Smith thinks the police force is “ashamed” of the contents of the report and therefore does not want to release it.

However, the police stick to their own reading that the report contains confidential information: “The report contained sensitive details relating to the operational police and national security. At the time, we shared our knowledge with partners in the police and aviation industry at home and abroad, with public safety being a priority.”

Drone detection systems

The Gatwick incident led to increased attention worldwide for airport security, especially in the field of unwanted drones. Many airports today are equipped with drone detection systems. Drones are regularly spotted flying too close to airports, sometimes resulting in disruption of air traffic.

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This article first appeared on Dronewatch and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

1 comment

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  • i was at the airport that night, there was no drones, only incompetence, lets look at the factsas they were stated:

    That night it was very windy, It rained almost the entire night, visability was pretty poor, and the said drone was supposed to be seen flying around for over an hour.

    Now lets look at the actual facts:
    Any off the shelf drone cannot fly in the wind, rain and for over an hour, and if it was a DJI drone its highly likely it would not have been able to take off or enter the geofenced airspace.

    going back to my poor visability remark: it was very foggy and rainy, my actual thoughts are that someone saw the top of the crane beacon lights which are red, and from distance thought this may have been a drone, this was then jumped on by others not realising it was a crane in the distance.
    fiasco and panic ensues and with incompetence a plenty it was then only deemed to be a rogue drone and not a case of mistaken identity, and they were never then going to back down regardless of if they knew what it was or not, 500k people and staff and 10s of thousands of surveilance cameras and not a single image or sighting….. you do the maths!!!