What happened during the Gatwick Airport drone incident?

The unexplained sightings of the aircraft sparked alarm and caused Gatwick Airport to be repeatedly forced to shut over a three-day period.

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

Sussex Police has come under fire over an unreleased report into the chaos caused when a drone or drones were spotted near the runway at Gatwick Airport in December 2018,

The unexplained sightings of the aircraft sparked alarm and caused the airport to be repeatedly forced to shut over a three-day period.

The incident, during the peak Christmas period, led to the airport being closed for 30 hours, disrupting 1,000 flights and more than 140,000 passengers.

The chaos continued despite a huge police operation and the Army was eventually called in to bring the incident under control.

Drones close Gatwick airport
Passengers at Gatwick airport waiting for their flights following the delays and cancellations brought on by drone sightings (PA)

Paul and Elaine Gait, from nearby Crawley, were arrested over the incident and held for 36 hours after armed police stormed their home.

This was despite the fact they did not possess any drones and had been at work during the reported sightings.

They were released without charge and last year received a £200,000 settlement and an apology from Sussex Police as they settled their claims for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment against the force.

No-one has ever been charged over the incident despite a huge operation that required resources from seven UK police forces as well as national expertise.

Drones close Gatwick airport
Counter drone equipment deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick (John Stillwell/PA)

Sussex Police chief constable at the time, Giles York, said in December 2018 that some reported drone sightings may have been Sussex Police’s own craft.

In July 2019, The Times reported that a senior officer for Sussex Police put the problem down to the force only having trained to deal with one drone at a time.

In September 2019, Sussex Police said the chaos involved two drones used by a person or persons with “detailed knowledge” of the airport.

The force confirmed at the time that the incident was not deemed terror-related and said there was “no evidence to suggest it was either state-sponsored, campaign or interest-group led”.

Their spokesperson added: “Witness statements show activity happened in ‘groupings’ across the three days on 12 separate occasions, varying in length from between seven and 45 minutes.

“On six of these occasions, witnesses clearly saw two drones operating simultaneously.”

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