Drone detectors now deployable across UK

Gatwick airport, London. (AFP pic)

British Security Minister Ben Wallace said Monday the government can now deploy drone detection systems nationwide, after days of device sightings caused chaos at Gatwick Airport and criticism of the government response.

Britain’s second-busiest airport was forced to close its only runway repeatedly last Wednesday through Friday due to numerous reports of drones, impacting nearly 140,000 passengers and leading to the deployment of soldiers.

“We are able to now deploy detection systems throughout the UK to combat this threat,” Wallace said in a statement.

But he warned: “The huge proliferation of such devices, coupled with the challenges of deploying military countermeasures into a civilian environment, means there are no easy solutions.”

Meanwhile, police have received around 30 pieces of “useful information” in the last 24 hours, a police-backed charity said Monday.

The tip-offs came after the airport, some 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of London, on Sunday offered a £50,000 (US$63,000/56,000 euro) reward for information on the incident.

“Within the first 24 hours we had close to 30 pieces of useful information that we passed on to police,” a spokesman for CrimeStoppers, a charity that helps police solve crimes, told AFP.

“It’s been a good response,” he said, adding that it pays out rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of perpetrators.

It launched the new appeal Sunday after police released without charge a local couple arrested Friday on suspicion of involvement.

Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk, who live in nearby Crawley, said in a statement Monday they felt “completely violated” by their two-day detention.

The police rejected criticism of their handling of the incident.

A detective admitted it was a “possibility” that no drones had actually been in the area — despite the discovery of a damaged device near the airport perimeter that is now being forensically examined.

“We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from 19 to 21 December,” Sussex police deputy chief constable Jo Shiner said on Monday.

“There were numerous reports clustered around 37 occasions where a drone or drones were seen and I am keen for those responsible to be brought to justice,” Shiner said.

The force provided fresh details on the sightings, noting that five officers were among the witnesses who reported the devices first appearing Wednesday night.

Shiner added that police were investigating what would be considered “criminal and reckless behaviour” under an aviation and maritime law punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.