PIC­TURED: Drone-lov­ing dou­ble- glaz­ing f it­ter and his wife ac­cused of bring­ing Gatwick to a stand­still

The Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Ian Gal­lagher CHIEF RE­PORTER

PO­LICE were last night ques­tion­ing a for­mer sol­dier and his wife over the drone chaos that sab­o­taged the Christ­mas hol­i­day plans of more than 140,000 pas­sen­gers at Gatwick.

Paul Gait, 47, and Elaine Kirk, 54, were ar­rested at their home five miles from the air­port on Fri­day night on sus­pi­cion of crimes in­volv­ing drones that could lead to a life sen­tence. Friends and neigh­bours ex­pressed shock and de­scribed the cou­ple as ‘re­spectable’.

Oth­ers said that Mr Gait, who served in North­ern Ire­land and Bos­nia with the Royal Ar­tillery but who now works as a win­dow fit­ter, used to play with re­mote-con­trolled cars be­fore grad­u­at­ing to model air­craft and drones. ‘He launched drones out­side his home ev­ery Sun­day af­ter­noon,’ said one neigh­bour. ‘He was a big kid, re­ally.’ In other devel­op­ments yes­ter­day: It emerged that the three- day fi­asco could have been averted in a mat­ter of

hours – but of­fers of help from RAF and Army elec­tron­ics ex­perts were re­jected;

Gatwick se­cu­rity chiefs knew of the threat posed by drones – but sought only to en­list the help of Neigh­bour­hood Watch groups and put up signs warn­ing op­er­a­tors to stay away;

Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling was un­der in­tense pres­sure over his han­dling of the cri­sis amid claims the se­cu­rity ser­vices had to in­ter­vene to ‘get a grip’ of the sit­u­a­tion.

The drone pilots could be jailed for life if con­victed, but se­nior se­cu­rity sources sug­gested that po­lice still lacked con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that the cou­ple were be­hind the chaos.

Mr Gait’s fa­ther, who asked not to be named, told The Mail on Sun­day: ‘Ev­ery­one is phon­ing me up say­ing, “It can’t be him. That’s not Paul.” ’

And Mr Gait’s boss said he could vouch for his move­ments all last week, and in­sisted he was not the cul­prit.

The ar­rests fol­lowed a sight­ing of a man in high-vis cloth­ing ‘fran­ti­cally’ pack­ing two drones into a ruck­sack four miles from Gatwick and then rid­ing off on a bike.

Ser­vices at the air­port re­turned to near nor­mal yes­ter­day, hav­ing been shut for 33 hours af­ter the first drone sight­ing at 9pm on Wednes­day.

Since then more than 140,000 pas­sen­gers have had their flights can­celled, in­clud­ing all those planned for Thurs­day – one of the busiest days in the build-up to Christ­mas.

The Army and po­lice had ap­peared pow­er­less to stop the sabo­teurs, with the drone even mock­ingly flash­ing its lights at po­lice of­fi­cers be­low.

Although air­ports can use radar scan­ners and cam­eras to look for drones, they can­not eas­ily use ‘jam­mers’ to stop them fly­ing. Po­lice are still ex­plor­ing the the­ory that ecow­ar­riors or ac­tivists protest­ing against de­por­ta­tions of mi­grants could be be­hind the may­hem.

Last night, forensic of­fi­cers ex­am­ined Mr Gait’s sil­ver VW As­tra es­tate out­side his de­tached £400,000 home in a cul- de- sac in Craw­ley. Res­i­dents in the West Sus­sex town have been bat­tling a pro­posed Gatwick ex­pan­sion.

Sus­sex Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent James Col­lis said ‘Our in­ves­ti­ga­tions are on­go­ing and our ac­tiv­i­ties at the air­port con­tinue to build re­silience to de­tect and mit­i­gate fur­ther in­cur­sions from drones, by de­ploy­ing a range of tac­tics.

‘The ar­rests we have made are a re­sult of our de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep the pub­lic safe from harm. Ev­ery line of in­quiry will re­main open to us un­til we are con­fi­dent that we have mit­i­gated fur­ther threats to the safety of pas­sen­gers.’

A Gatwick spokesman said: ‘ Pas­sen­gers should ex­pect some de­lays and can­cel­la­tions as we re­cover op­er­a­tions af­ter three days of dis­rup­tion.’

LAST week’s Gatwick drone fi­asco shut Bri­tain’s se­cond largest air­port for 33 hours, led to 1,000 flights be­ing grounded and r ui ned t he Christ­mases of 140,000 peo­ple caught up in the chaos. It also ex­posed de­pressi ng l evels of i ncom­pe­tence within our Gov­ern­ment, se­cu­rity ser­vices and air­ports.

At ev­ery stage of the saga, the pub­lic has been shame­fully let down by those paid to pro­tect us and keep the wheels of the coun­try turn­ing.

As long ago as July, Gatwick had in­for­ma­tion about a threat from drones, but did pretty much noth­ing. And while the tech­nol­ogy has been avail­able to neu­tralise these de­vices for some time, none of it was in place at the air­port.

Then there was the White­hall war about who was in charge of the op­er­a­tion to bring Gatwick back into com­mis­sion.

All the while, pas­sen­gers were left stranded.

When you put it all to­gether, the Gatwick drone saga is the per­fect metaphor for what has hap­pened to this coun­try. We think of our­selves as a global su­per­power but, when de­ci­sive ac­tion is needed, it’s like we have t he parish coun­cil in charge. There seems to be lit­tle lead­er­ship or joined-up think­ing. But, nat­u­rally, no short­age of pos­tur­ing.

Of course, we will now be told that ‘ les­sons will be learned’ from what has hap­pened last week. But who will have any faith that this is true?

What we can be sure of is that, given the law as it stands, any penalty cer­tainly won’t fit the crime. There is a max­i­mum of five years in prison for en­dan­ger­ing the safety of an air­craft. That would come nowhere near an ap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence for all the Christ­mas hol­i­days that have been sab­o­taged, and tens of mil­lions of pounds lost.

This drone ‘at­tack’ may have not caused any loss of life, but the events of the past few days should bring home that the threat from such ma­chines is ter­ri­fy­ingly real. Drones are eas­ily weaponised with guns or poi­sonous gases by those with ma­lign in­tent. What if that had been the case last week?

At least now no one will be able to claim sur­prise if, in the not­too-dis­tant fu­ture, we are sub­jected to an­other threat from the skies – one that could be deadly. The au­thor­i­ties should con­sider them­selves on no­tice.

It’ s not like they haven’ t al­ready had the op­por­tu­nity to tighten up the laws on drones. Of­fi­cials had been plan­ning leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect air­ports but Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling blocked it be­cause his depart­ment was too busy mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for a No Deal Brexit. The re­sult is that we are a nu­clear power – the sixth big­gest econ­omy in the world – but can’t even deal with a child’s toy.

None of this will be any com­fort to those caught up in the chaos. For them, months of sav­ing and an­tic­i­pa­tion have ended in noth­ing but frus­tra­tion.

Mean­while, all too pre­dictably, air­lines tried to cash in on those try­ing to book al­ter­na­tive flights by hik­ing up prices.

These trav­ellers and hol­i­day­mak­ers de­serve bet­ter than those who let them down last week.

We hope that when they fi­nally reach their des­ti­na­tions, all those who have been so griev­ously dis­rupted by t he Gatwick chaos do fi­nally have a very happy Christ­mas, just as we wish the same to all our read­ers.

SUS­PECTS: Paul Gait and his wife Elaine Kirk were ar­rested at their home over the drone chaos

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