Gatwick airport drone shutdown could have been an inside job, police say

Sussex Police say they have drawn a blank on Christmas week runway closure after £800k investigation


Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 27 September 2019 17:53 BST
Plane prepares to land at Gatwick
Plane prepares to land at Gatwick (AFP)

Whoever flew the drones that closed Gatwick during the busiest week of the winter “had detailed knowledge of the airport”, according to Sussex Police.

But after nine months of investigation, police responsible for the airport say they may never find the culprit.

Between 18 and 20 December, two “unmanned aerial vehicles” closed the world’s busiest runway for 33 hours – cancelling 1,000 flights and disrupting the travel plans of 150,000 travellers.

The closure of Gatwick airport cost airlines around £50m in lost revenue and passenger care costs.

The policing operation and subsequent investigation have cost £800,000.

Assistant chief constable Dave Miller, head of operations command, said: “This was a serious and deliberate criminal act designed to endanger airport operations and the safety of the travelling public.”

More than 100 “credible witnesses” were interviewed, who were “used to working in a complex airport environment”. They included a pilot, airport workers and airport police.

Their statements indicate the drones were flown in 12 separate bursts across the three days. The activity ranged from seven to 45 minutes. “On six of these occasions, witnesses clearly saw two drones operating simultaneously,” said Sussex Police.

The report says there was no evidence to indicate the activity was related to terrorism, nor was it state-sponsored.

Earlier this month, a climate-change group called Heathrow Pause attempted to shut down Heathrow airport by flying drones, but in the Gatwick incident, no campaigning group is thought to be responsible.

In April, Chris Woodroofe, chief operating officer at Gatwick, told BBC’s Panorama: “It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport.”

Sussex Police say they have identified, researched and ruled out 96 “people of interest”.

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A couple from Crawley were wrongly arrested in December for the drone attack. Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk were released without charge.

Mr Miller said: “With support from national experts, we have carried out an exhaustive criminal investigation but, without new information coming to light, there are no further realistic lines of enquiry at this time.

“Measures now available have strengthened our capability to respond to and investigate a similar incident in the future.”

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