A couple wrongly arrested over the Gatwick Airport drone chaos have received a £200,000 payout from police.
Armed officers stormed the home of Paul and Elaine Gait in December 2018 after drone sightings forced the airport to repeatedly close over three days.
They were released without further charge after being held for 36 hours – despite the fact they did not possess any drones and had been at work during the reported sightings.
The couple have settled their claims for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment against Sussex Police outside of court, their legal team announced on Sunday.
The force agreed to an out-of-court settlement package of £200,000 in compensation and legal costs, along with an apology.
Detectives have never established who was behind the chaos which forced Gatwick’s runways to close shortly before Christmas, with dozens of flights cancelled during the busiest week of the winter period.
Sussex Police said 96 people “of interest” had been identified, researched and ruled out during the investigation.
Mr and Ms Gait, from Crawley, said in a statement: “We are delighted to have finally received vindication, it has been a very long fight for justice.
“The sums being paid by Sussex Police and letter received from the assistant chief constable are confirmation of our innocence and wrongful treatment.
“It has taken lengthy legal proceedings to obtain resolution from the police and to finally have closure on this distressing time. We look forward to moving on and putting this terrible episode behind us.”
They say despite the apology they still have “no explanation” for why they were held “incommunicado” for 36 hours.
Mark Stephens, partner at Howard Kennedy, who has represented the couple since Boxing Day 2018, said: “It was plain as a pikestaff from day one that Mr and Ms Gait experienced a gross miscarriage of justice and I am delighted that this miscarriage has finally been marked by the police.”
In a letter to the couple shared by their legal team, Sussex Police assistant chief constable David Miller said: “I am deeply sorry that you both experienced the unpleasantness of arrest and detention incommunicado for approximately 36 hours.
“I acknowledge that this would have been a traumatic time for you both.
“Unfortunately, when the police carry out their functions on behalf of the public, sometimes innocent people are arrested as part of necessary police investigations in the public interest.
“I understand that you believe that you were unlawfully arrested and detained by Sussex Police officers.
“This is an issue which can only be resolved by a court.
“However, we recognise that things could have been done differently and, as a result, Sussex Police have agreed to pay you compensation and legal costs.”
Mr Miller also confirmed the force commissioned a “thorough independent review” of the drone incident.
In an update on the case on Sunday, police said they had concluded ”at least two drones were behind the attack”. No aircraft was damaged by the drones but 1,000 flights were disrupted, affecting more than 140,000 passengers.
Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller, head of Sussex Police operations command, said: “This was a serious and deliberate criminal act designed to endanger airport operations and the safety of the travelling public.
“A drone strike can cause significant damage to an aircraft in flight and it is important to emphasise that public safety was always at the forefront of our response.
Sussex Police said its 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.
Those behind the drones are believed to have had detailed knowledge of the airport.
Mr Miller said the chaos ”unprecedented set of circumstances for all agencies involved” and the police operation and subsequent investigation had cost £790,000.
“Measures now available have strengthened our capability to respond to and investigate a similar incident in the future,” he added.
Additional reporting by PA
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