Justice For The Gatwick Two: The Final Chapter In The British Drone Panic Saga

At the end of 2018, a spate of drone sightings caused the temporary closure of London Gatwick Airport, and set in train a chain of events that were simultaneously baffling and comedic as the authorities struggled to keep up with both events and the ever widening gap in their knowledge of the subject.

One of the more inept actions of the Sussex Police was to respond by arresting the first local drone enthusiast they could find on Facebook, locking up a local couple for 36 hours and creating a media frenzy by announcing the apprehension of the villains before shamefacedly releasing them without charge.

In a final twist to the sorry saga, the couple have sued the force for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment, for which the cops have had to make a £200,000 ($250,117) payout including legal fees.

We reported extensively on the events surrounding the case 18 months ago, and then on a follow-up event at London Heathrow airport. The mass media at the time were full of the official line that drone hobbyists must be at fault, but then as now we were more interested in seeing some hard evidence. As we said then: Show us the drone.

So how has the new drone law progressed, since it was decided that Something Must Be Done? Enthusiasts have continued as before, and the multirotor community is as technically creative as ever. We were fortunate enough to host the Lets Drone Out podcast at MK Makerspace back in those halcyon days before the pandemic and see the state of the art in sub-250g craft, and with those and commercial offerings such as the DJI Mavic Mini all requiring no registration there is increasingly little need for an enthusiast to purchase a larger machine. The boost to the British drone industry we were promised has instead been a boost for the Chinese industry as we predicted, and of course we’re still waiting for the public inquiry into the whole mess. Something tells us Hell will freeze over first.

If you’d like the whole backstory in a convenient and entertaining video format, can we direct you to this talk at CCCamp 2019.

Thanks [Stuart Rogers] for the tip.

Keystone Kops header image: Mack Sennett Studios [Public domain].

27 thoughts on “Justice For The Gatwick Two: The Final Chapter In The British Drone Panic Saga

      1. Not really. Others feel the same. It’s not just the bad press but the current requirements and the ones in the pipe.
        All of the drone sighting headlines have been replaced with new rule sightings since the FAA obtained their new power. No sightings in sight anymore.

  1. @[Jenny List] said: “…for which the cops have had to make a £200,000 ($250,117) payout including legal fees.”

    I love that. A non-technical (a.k.a. normal) person would have just written that as “£200,000 ($250,000)”. Instead here on HaD, that’s unacceptable. I get you [Jenny List], just next time remember to add the decimal point and place-holders for U.S. Pennies and British New-Pence.

    1. The lure of false precision. The rate of exchange varies more than that most days.

      Good company on this, though. Starrett does the same on most of their 2D drawings of tools. Dimensions that are speced a fractions in sixteenths with tolerance 1/64″ imperial are listed to the micron in metric.

      1. Starrett – you used to be the Last Word. Now most of your stuff is made in China.
        I drove through Athol a few years ago. It’s a shell of its former self…

    2. Sorry, to counter, but… £ is exclusively used for GBP as far as I know. And it’s accurate.
      But $250117? Is that AUD, SGD, or what? And at what time? Google gives me 248560 USD for that conversion today. Giving 6 sig-figs implies more accuracy in that figure than is present.

  2. I wonder if any of the inept police involved from Sussex were fallout from the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad (disbanded in 1989 after an investigation into allegations of incompetence and abuse of power). It would be unlikely, I would guess that most of them would be retired by now.

  3. Oh, so it was confirmed as drone sightings then?
    As opposed to imaginary objects? Or UFOs..

    As I’m yet to see what shread of proof there was anything there other than objects of people’s imagination..

    As that’s the real headline.

    It should have been police investigated for closing international airport after mass hysteria caused by social media around drones.
    The only thing we found is the police has lost the ability to investigate properly.
    Same as most journalists..

    1. There’s a small community near me that’s just been having a social media drone flap. Don’t think it was big enough to hit any real media. There’s a small heliport on the edge of town that they all just forgot about or something, it was a Robinson R22 and a Hughes 500 flying out of there that they were mistaking as drones. I guess it had just started operations after shutdown, and I guess there’s still people at home (with nothing better to do) during the week when it’s active, when usually they are at work somewhere else. But still, seems pretty stupid that they were seeing full size helis as drones.

      1. Though meant to add, with that kind of public misidentification, I could easily see a panic getting started over nothing then reports quadrupling when police and news helicopters start stooging around looking for the “drones”

        1. Also mildly relevant… A friend of a friend… I was told they had UFO activity all night, every night visible from their back yard. Their back yard points toward a heliport 1 mile away and middling sized airport (Takes medium sized jets) 20 miles away where one of the “legs” of the approach pattern points more or less directly at the back yard also. So on a clear night you see the landing light turned on, then it seems to stay in place getting a tad lower and brighter, then it winks out as the plane turns in… you know, “UFO”s

    2. I’m curious, have you *read* any of the Hackaday coverage of these events, or indeed watched the CCCamp talk? That’s the whole thesis we’ve been pursuing for the last 18 months.

      1. Yes which is why I dont understand why you dont make more of a point of calling out that’s the only confirmed drone contact has been law enforcement hitting there own chopper with a drone recently.

        Yes there has been the odd pleb flying here and there that’s got pulled to one side and been given a ticking off. But they are the exception.
        So I’d rather you replace all future use of the word drone in these articles with reported object.
        And then anyone not knowing about the issue will see that there is an issue with miss reporting not drones.

  4. They only actually received £55,000. The rest went to the lawyers. It’s the lawyers that always win! Still, not to shabby for 36 hours. I’d take that job! Although, I have no idea how much time they spent in court, talking to their lawyers, etc…

  5. And my Intel Aero autonomous quad is banned from being flown outside, so now I have to leave the country to work on it. UK government are killing the 4th industrial revolution in the womb.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.