Gatwick drone inquiry has ‘no lines of inquiry’ left to pursue

The Sussex Police investigation into illegal drone incursions at Gatwick Airport last year has concluded that at least two drones were behind the attack but has no further lines of inquiry left to pursue.

Sep 27, 2019
By Tony Thompson

The incident, during the peak Christmas period, led to the airport being closed for 30 hours, disrupting 1,000 flights and more than 140,000 passengers.

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller, Head of Operations Command, said the investigation centred on 129 separate sightings of drone activity, 109 of these from credible witnesses used to working in a complex airport environment including a pilot, airport workers and airport police.

Through corroborated witness statements, it was established that at least two drones were in operation during this period and the offender, or multiple offenders, had detailed knowledge of the airport.

Witness statements show activity happened in ‘groupings’ across the three days on 12 separate occasions, varying in length from between seven and 45 minutes. On six of these occasions, witnesses clearly saw two drones operating simultaneously.

The incident was not deemed terror-related and there is no evidence to suggest it was either state-sponsored, campaign or interest-group led. The investigation has identified, researched and ruled out 96 people ‘of interest’. No further arrests have been made.

The significant police response required resources from seven UK police forces as well as national expertise in policing, government and the private sector.

“This was an unprecedented set of circumstances for all agencies involved at a time when the police and the Government were at the early stages of assessing domestic counter drone technology,” said Mr Miller.

“Equipment was quickly installed using both military and private assets to bring it to a conclusion and allow the airport to reopen. Measures now available have strengthened our capability to respond to and investigate a similar incident in the future.”

“With support from national experts, we have carried out an exhaustive criminal investigation but, without new information coming to light, there are no further realistic lines of enquiry at this time,” added Mr Miller.

The policing operation and subsequent investigation has so far cost £790,000 but this figure is not expected to increase further, with the bulk of the cost relating to the operational police response. Mutual aid, taken with additional officer shifts, ensured frontline policing services in Sussex remained unaffected.

Mr Miller said that Sussex Police continues to share learning from the incident across policing and other relevant agencies both across the UK and internationally.

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