UK officials have blasted the police's public management of dozens of suspected drone sightings over Gatwick, which affected some 1,000 flights at the country’s second largest airport last week.
On Monday, Sussex Police confirmed “numerous illegal drone sightings” from December 19 to December 21 following eye witness reports. Ministers and security officials held a conference call on Christmas Eve to discuss the events last week that caused widespread disruption for some 140,000 people in the lead-up to the festive season.
There had been suggestions by police there may never have been a drone – a source told Sky News this was a “mess-up” and another described it to the BBC as a “miscommunication by police."
“We are interviewing those who have reported these sightings, are carrying out extensive house to house enquiries and carrying out a forensic examination of a damaged drone found near the perimeter of the airport near Horley, which is close to the last reported sighting,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley in a statement.
“We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from 19 to 21 December,” said Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner.
Among those to report seeing the drones were multiple police officers, a pilot and airport workers. Reports said Gatwick has since spent £5 million (Dh 23.37million) upgrading the airport to protect against similar incidents in the future.
There had earlier been widespread confusion when an officer said there was a “possibility” there was not a drone. "Of course, that's a possibility. We are working with human beings saying they have seen something,” Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley told the BBC.
A 47-year-old man and 54-year-old woman have been released without charge over the debacle. A £50,000 (Dh233575) reward via Crime stoppers has been offered to the public for information that could help apprehend those responsible.
So serious was the situation, the army was called in to help. Since late July 2018 it has been illegal to fly a drone above 120 metres and within one kilometre of an airport.