A British police force paid more than $250,000 to a couple after falsely accusing them of threatening Gatwick Airport in an alleged 2018 drone incident.
According to the BBC, attorneys for Paul and Elaine Gait negotiated an out-of-court settlement with the Sussex Police Department for $63,000 in damages and $190,000 in attorney’s fees after they sued for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment. Following an armed police assault on the couple’s home in December 2018, officers held them for 36 hours on suspicion of causing a shutdown of the nearby airport after someone sighted an object thought to be a drone.
Following the alleged drone incident, officials shut down the busy airport for three days, turning away around 120,000 passengers.
“No one has ever been charged, and police have said that some reported drone sightings may have been Sussex Police’s own craft,” the BBC noted.
Sussex Police chief constable issued an apology after releasing the couple:
“I’m really sorry for what [Mr. Gait] has experienced and the feeling of violation around it. [But] what might have been worse as an experience for him would have been to be released under investigation still. We were able to exhaust all our lines of inquiry on that first instance and were able to release him from police custody saying he was no longer a suspect.”
Police investigated and ruled out 95 people and spent nearly $1 million investigating the drone incident.
In the months that followed the alleged drone incident, a multi-national Blue Ribbon Task released a report with recommendations to industry and government on better ways to safeguard airports from drone incidents.
Drone manufacturer DJI noted in a 2019 blog post that an actual drone sighting at Gatwick has never been independently confirmed:
“Six months after London’s Gatwick Airport shut down because of reported drone sightings, there is still no publicly available, independent proof that a rogue drone ever flew over the airport. But the magnitude of the response showed how unprepared many airports are to respond to a drone sighting and protect public safety while minimizing public disruption.”
A later BBC report notes: “There are no verified pictures of the drone, and very few eyewitnesses have spoken publicly.” Gatwick spent around $6 million to install two sets of the AUDS (Anti-UAV Defence System) counter-drone system.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.