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Police think Gatwick drone incident was probably an inside job

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'Credible line of inquiry is perpetrators had to know about the airport's operations'.

Delays: Tens of thousands caught up in the disruption at Gatwick

Delays: Tens of thousands caught up in the disruption at Gatwick

Date - 15th April 2019
By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle


Forces criticised for the worst drone disruption in UK history have said that possible perpetrators could have included an airport “insider”, it emerged today.

Both Sussex and Surrey had to defend the “unprecedented” incursion that saw the shutdown of Gatwick Airport with the flights of 140,000 passengers hit as 115 drone sightings were reported over a three-day period in December.

And they were forced to respond to a £459,000 bill “reflecting the cost of policing a deliberate criminal act of this nature” that saw a drama turn into a crisis – leading to a national multi-agency umbrella to protect public safety.

Now police say they are looking into a “credible line of inquiry” that suggests culprits behind the drone chaos had an insight into how the airport was reacting to the incident.

The rogue operators could either see what was taking place on the runway or they were eavesdropping on radio or internet communications, said Chris Woodroofe, the airport's chief operating officer.

A number of drone sightings forced Britain's second-busiest airport to shut down for 33 hours between December 19 and 21.

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

Sussex Police said the likelihood that the perpetrators could have included an airport insider is a "credible line" of inquiry.

Speaking to the BBC's Panorama Programme, Mr Woodroofe said the disruption wreaked by the drones was "terrible".

"It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport", he said.

Mr Woodroofe was the ‘gold commander’ in charge of the airport's response to the incident which hit 1,000 flights.

He said there was "absolutely nothing" that he would have done differently as the safety of passengers was of paramount concern.

"It was terrible that 140,000 people's journeys were disrupted, but everyone was safe." Mr Woodroofe said.

Military anti-drone equipment, which can detect the flying machines and disable them by jamming radio signals, remained at the airport until March.

Both Gatwick and Heathrow are investing millions in their own systems to prevent future flight disruption.

"We would know the drone was arriving on site and we'd know where that drone had come from, where it was going to and we'd have a much better chance of catching the perpetrator," Mr Woodroofe said.

"What this incident has demonstrated is that a drone operator with malicious intent can cause serious disruption to airport operations.

“And it's clear that disruption could be carried over into other industries and other environments."

The disruption costs – to policing only – has seen Sussex spend £419,000 and Surrey a further £40,000, purely on overtime.

Sussex’s spending has been spread across overtime and bank holiday pay (£332,000), basing police officers on the site (£52,000), accommodation and subsistence (£14,000), mutual aid from other forces in Cambridge and Essex (£12,000), transport (£5,000) and equipment (£4,000).

The costs, revealed last month, were been described as “shocking” by Crawley MP Henry Smith who warned Parliament in July 2017 that drones could bring major disruption if steps were not taken.

At the time of the disruption, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick came to the defence of the Sussex force by admitting that policing faces a “difficult challenge” ahead – warning that security authorities must “up their game” to prevent the criminal use of drones and bring unmanned aerial vehicles under control.

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Whilst I think that it is a credible line of enquiry that ‘Drone Boy’ was an insider, I also think that it is more likely that Drone Boy had access to a line of sight of the runway through hacking, rather than visible means.


Likewise, I think that Drone Boy developed a knowledge of what types of drones would have escaped being identified through the anti-Drone systems that were in place as a result of hacking.


Surely, if such a ‘dodgy insider’ existed a ‘net of capture’ would have been flung for intelligence purposes and any suspect individuals would have had their spending, comms and internet history (including spending) covertly examined.


My own view was that this was an exploratory challenge of our weak Criticial National Infrastructure by a foreign power whom chose to do so at Christmas as part of a contemptuous ‘eff you’.


Can we publicly say that we got fudged over by the likes of Russia at Christmas? No. Or can otherwise blame a renegade Gatwick employee on the basis that our collective investigation skills are so shocking that a ‘defined population’ of suspects (i.e. ‘Gatwick employees in the know’) could be covertly investigated?


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