A couple arrested by Sussex police on suspicion of flying drones over Gatwick Airport have been released without charge.
The Guardian reports that the couple, a 47-year-old man and 54-year-old women were released due to their “cast-iron, watertight alibi.”
The pair, who were held by police for a marthon 35 hours, may now seek compensation from various media outlets for damages after multiple British newspapers identified them, despite them not being charged with anything. Morning television host Piers Morgan referred to them as “terrorists” shortly after they were taken into custody (although in light of police clearing them of all suspicion, he has since apologised for that comment).
Gatwick Airport, which is located 30 miles south of London, was closed for some 36 hours between December 19 and 21 due to repeated witness sightings of a drone or drones flying around the airport. The incident caused disruption to around 1000 flights, delayed approximately 150,000 passengers and cost Gatwick Airport millions and millions of pounds. The military, including snipers, were brought to the airport and prominent government figures weighed in on the incident which made headlines around the world.
According to the New York Times, the couple were arrested, in part, due to both living in a district near the airport and the husband having a Facebook profile page suggesting he was a drone hobbyist (a few of us could be in trouble in future if that’s the only basis they were arrested on). If the couple arrested were not responsible for piloting the drone(s), who was? Here is all the latest information we have available:
The latest on this story (as at evening of 25th of December)
Gatwick Airport has spent $9 million to upgrade their airport to prevent any further drone incidents
The equipment as part of this upgrade is likely to include signal jammers and drone killer devices. Other international airports around the world are reportedly looking at the chaos caused at Gatwick and considering undertaking similar upgrades.
Sussex police still investigating drone witnesses
There was some reporting in media that perhaps, no drone ever flew at Gatwick Airport. Some of our readers pointed out that it seemed unlikely that a drone could fly in such a public location and not be caught on camera, video or one of the airport’s many CCTV cameras. I, unfortunately, don’t have enough information on the placement of the CCTV cameras to make a guess as to why there’s barely any footage of the drone in the public arena. Here’s one blurry video on the BBC website showing what could be a drone or a bird near Gatwick.
Police are following up on 67 reports from witnesses of drone activity including from police officers, passengers and airport staff between 19-21 December. It does seem pretty unlikely that so many people would be mistaken in what they think they saw. It would be interesting to know what the military personnel did or did not detect using the sophisticated equipment they set up at the airport.
A crashed drone was discovered at the edge of Gatwick Airport and is being forensically examined. Gatwick has offered a 50,000 pound ($63,000) reward for information leading to the arrest. The investigators will look at the digital data on the drone as well as the human DNA present. We do not yet know whether this drone was one of those spotted flying over the airport.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered in this saga and the answers are important because of the implications it may have for future drone regulations in both the United Kingdom as well as the United States.
We will keep you updated with all the latest from this story as it comes to light.