PUB­LIC MAY HAVE SEEN OUR DRONES AT AIR­PORT – PO­LICE CHIEF

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - AN­DREW WOOD­COCK Press As­so­ci­a­tion news­[email protected]­line.co.uk

SOME of the sight­ings of drones which kept Gatwick Air­port on shut­down and caused dis­rup­tion for thou­sands of trav­ellers may have in­volved the po­lice’s own craft, a se­nior of­fi­cer has ad­mit­ted.

Sus­sex Po­lice Chief Con­sta­ble Giles York’s com­ment came as he said he was “re­ally sorry” for a cou- ple who were held for 36 hours be­fore be­ing cleared of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the dis­rup­tion.

Mr York in­sisted he is “ab­so­lutely cer­tain” a drone was fly­ing near run­ways at Gatwick dur­ing the three-day pe­riod from De­cem­ber 19 to 21 when the air­port was re­peat­edly forced to close. Hun­dreds of pas­sen­gers were di­verted to Cardiff Air­port as a re­sult.

But he ac­knowl­edged there may have been some “con­fu­sion” caused by his force launch­ing its own drones in the hunt for the rogue craft.

Speak­ing to BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme, Mr York con­firmed mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy had been in­stalled at Gatwick fol­low­ing last week’s in­ci­dent, “dra­mat­i­cally” im­prov­ing se­cu­rity at the air­port.

But he ac­knowl­edged he could not rule out fu­ture dis­rup­tion of the same kind.

Po­lice have not yet found the drone used to dis­rupt around 1,000 flights last week and do not know its model, he said.

Two drones found by po­lice near the air­port have now been ruled out of in­volve­ment.

Mr York said a Sus­sex of­fi­cer who sug­gested last week that po­lice were not sure whether there was a drone fly­ing at Gatwick at all was sim­ply try­ing to ex­plain the in­ves­tiga­tive ap­proach taken by the force.

“I am ab­so­lutely cer­tain that there was a drone fly­ing through­out the pe­riod that the air­port was closed,” he said.

Po­lice re­ceived 115 re­ports of sight­ings in the area, in­clud­ing 92 which have been con­firmed as com­ing from “cred­i­ble peo­ple”, said Mr York.

But he told To­day: “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.”

De­scrib­ing the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion as “in­cred­i­bly thor­ough”, he said: “I don’t think we have found the drone re­spon­si­ble for this at this time.

“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.”

The of­fi­cer also said he felt “re­ally sorry” for Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk, from Craw­ley, West Sus­sex, who were de­tained in the wake of the dis­rup­tion, but said the grounds for their ar­rest were “well founded”.

The cou­ple have said they felt “vi­o­lated” by their lengthy ques­tion­ing, the search of their home and the way in which their iden­ti­ties be­came pub­lic.

Mr York de­fended the de­ci­sion to hold Mr Gait for an ex­tended pe­riod, de­spite his em­ployer say­ing he was at work dur­ing the drone flights.

“I’m re­ally sorry for what he has ex­pe­ri­enced and the feel­ing of vi­o­la­tion around it,” said the chief con­sta­ble.

“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.”

Mr York de­clined to dis­cuss the kind of mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy in­stalled at Gatwick since the drone flights.

But he told To­day: “The sys­tems that are in place to­day are dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent to what was in place a week ago.”

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.”

ADAM GERRARD

Sus­sex Po­lice Chief Con­sta­ble Giles York

DAN KITWOOD

A pas­sen­ger sleeps on the floor of the de­par­ture lounge at Gatwick South Ter­mi­nal dur­ing the dis­rup­tion caused by a drone

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