Sussex Police backtrack on claims there may never have been a drone

The couple questioned by police over the drone disruption at Gatwick Airport have said they feel ‘completely violated’ by the experience and are receiving medical care. 

Paul Gait, 47, and Elaine Kirk, 54, from Crawley, West Sussex, were arrested and released without charge after two nights in custody.

Reading their joint statement, Mr Gait said he and his wife were ‘deeply distressed’ their ‘names, photos and other personal information’ had been shared across the world. 

It came as police said there had ‘unequivocally’ been drone sightings at Gatwick after they appeared to suggest yesterday that there might have been no drone at all. 

Paul Gait, 47, and his wife Elaine Kirk spoke today outside their home in Crawley, West Sussex

Speaking outside their home in Crawley, West Sussex, an emotional Mr Gait said the couple were ‘deeply distressed’ by the experience.

‘As you can probably imagine we are feeling completely violated,’ the he told Sky News. ‘Our home has been searched and our privacy and identity completely exposed.

‘Our names, photos and other personal information have been broadcast throughout the world.’

Mr Gait said he and Ms Kirk would try to get through Christmas ‘as best we can’.

‘The way we were initially perceived was disgusting, although those that know us didn’t doubt us for a second,’ he added.

‘Post release without charge or further action, we are totally overwhelmed by the support we have received from the people from all over the world and we would like to thank every single one that has done that.’

It comes as police said  suggestions that there may never have been any drones at Gatwick were down to ‘poor communications’.  

Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said yesterday it was a ‘possibility’ there may never have been any drones in the area, despite scores of sightings which led to the closure of the airport for three days and caused massive disruption for passengers. 

Gatwick Airport has offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to arrest after confirming around 1,000 aircraft have been cancelled or diverted, affecting approximately 150,000 passengers, since Wednesday night.  

There were 67 sighting reports from December 19 to 21 of a drone being operated illegally around the runway in an act police described as ‘deliberate’ to disrupt the airport. 

Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said on Monday afternoon: ‘We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from 19 to 21 December.

The couple (left and right) live just five miles away from the airport. Paul Gait is a window fitter and his boss has said he was working at the time of the incident

Full statement: Gatwick drone couple speak after being released without charge  

Speaking outside their home in Crawley, a visibly emotional Mr Gait said: ‘As you can probably imagine, we are feeling completely violated. Our home has been searched and our privacy and identity completely exposed. 

‘Our names, photos and other personal information have been broadcast throughout the world.

‘We are deeply distressed, as are our friends, and we are currently receiving medical care.

‘The way we were initially perceived has been disgusting, although the people who knew us didn’t doubt us for a second. 

‘We were released without charge. We would like to thank all our supporters throughout the world.

‘Please respect our privacy and leave us to get on with Christmas. No further comments will be made at this time, thank you.’

‘There were numerous reports clustered around 37 occasions where a drone or drones were seen and I am keen for those responsible to be brought to justice.

‘The impact of this criminal and reckless behaviour has been enormous and we are determined to locate those responsible to bring them to justice.

‘We are investigating this under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.’   

Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said yesterday there was ‘no available footage [of the drones] and they are relying on witness accounts.’ 

However, following the hour-long conference call – chaired by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – a Government source said police had accepted that the claim was down to ‘poor communications’.

The conference call was joined by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington – Prime Minister Theresa May’s de facto deputy – Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Security Minister Ben Wallace and Defence Minister Stuart Andrew.  

Mr Tingley warned police could not rule out the risk the culprits would strike again at Gatwick or another airport.

The couple arriving home on Sunday morning after spending 36 hours in police custody

Details of the drone sightings that brought Gatwick to a standstill 

Sussex Police today released details of the sightings that took place from 9pm on December 19 to December 21.

They are:

The first report was at around 9am when an airport security officer finishing work reported seeing two drones flying near Perimeter Road South, describing their cross shape and flashing lights. 

Half an hour later at about 9.30pm six people, including five police officers, reported within 15 minutes of each other seeing a drone, with white and red lights, near the runway.

Early the next morning at around 1.15am on 20 December, six people – three airport workers and three police officers – reported over 30 minutes seeing a drone near the runway.

Over about 30 minutes at about 5pm on 21 December six people – a member of the public and five police officers – reported seeing a drone near a hangar.

In a further report at around 7.15pm on 21 December a pilot reported seeing a drone near a stand on the airfield. The account was corroborated by a member of staff.  

‘Someone, somewhere knows either the perpetrator or perpetrators responsible for this, or has information relating to these incidents,’ he said.

‘Our tactical response, should there be any more drone sightings, is still in place.’

But when officers arrived at the area, some seven miles from the airport, they discovered they were actually three red lights on a crane. 

Sussex Police have been slammed for their bungled probe, after they held married couple Paul and Elaine Kirk-Gait from Crawley, West Sussex for nearly two days without charge, and the culprit still remains at large. 

One bogus sighting was yesterday revealed by Surrey Police.

They told how a called reported a red light hovering over the bus station, that was not moving or not making any noise.

A Surrey Police spokesperson said: ‘Due to recent events at Gatwick we popped down to investigate further.

‘It was a crane, a crane with an ‘aviation warning light’ on top.

‘Mystery Solved.’

Reigate and Banstead Beat cops posted the comical report on their Facebook page, and were met with a flurry of comments, mocking the concerned resident.

One said: ‘I’d be surprised if you don’t get a call about a strange liquid substance falling from the sky.’  

Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, left, said yesterday that there ‘may never have been a drone’ but today the force backtracked over the claims. Right, Mr and Mrs Gait

Timeline: How dangerous drone pilot managed to shut down Gatwick

Police are hunting for the expert drone pilot who has grounded hundreds of planes coming in and out of Gatwick by flying a drone at least 50 times 

Here is how the chaos has unfolded:

9pm, December 19: Drone is first spotted by airport staff hovering near the runway causing flights to be grounded or diverted.

9.15pm: It appears again leading Gatwick bosses to believe it is a deliberate act.

9.30pm – midnight: The drone is seen at least five more times in that period

3.01am, December 20: Airport re-opens its runway after the all clear is given

3.45am: Drone is seen again and flights are again grounded

7am: Small unmanned aircraft appears again

9am: Another sighting of the drone as police start hunting perimeter of the airport 

Midday: Police are unable find the drone pilot despite it appearing again at lunchtime with Gatwick saying all flights are grounded until at least 4pm

2pm: Airport admits it has ‘no idea’ when it will re-open as police struggle to find the pilot 

3pm: The drone is spotted again as it buzzes across Gatwick’s runway. It was just minutes after airport bosses announced they had hoped to re-open at 4pm.

4pm: Drone spotted flying over the runway yet again. 

5pm: Ministry of Defence confirms that it is using specialist equipment to seek out the drone 

8pm: Gatwick tells passengers not to come to the airport on Friday as drone buzzes across terminals

8.30pm-9.30pm: Another sighting of the drone on Thursday evening 

10pm: The last known sighting of the drone hours after Army is deployed

3am, Friday December 21: Airport bosses deem the airspace is clear

6am: Gatwick re-opens the runway

10.30am: Flights are taking off and landing as normal

5.10pm: The runway is closed again after another suspected sighting 

10pm: Two suspects are arrested, Sussex Police announce 

December 23: Sussex Police confirm two suspects arrested in conjunction with the widespread disruption of flights at Gatwick Airport through the illegal use of drones have been released without charge 

Dave Taylor wrote: ‘That’ll be the high rise red light district.’

Others said the name for the police response should have been ‘Operation SpecSavers.’ 

Today in a statement Gatwick Airport said: ‘We are clear that there were multiple confirmed sightings of drone activity at the airport. 

‘Therefore we took the necessary actions to ensure the safety of passengers using our airport. 

‘Safety will always be our number one priority. 

‘We continue to support the Police with their investigations into this illegal and deliberate act to disrupt Gatwick airport’s operations.’

Yesterday police were accused of failing to interview colleagues of Paul and Elaine Kirk Gait who could have vouched for the couple’s whereabouts.

Friends and family repeatedly insisted the pair were not the ‘Eco-warriors’ behind the attack and claimed officers under pressure to get results had ‘hastily’ arrested the wrong couple. 

The airport has now offered a £50,000 reward to catch the suspect who operated the device. 

Questions have also now been raised as to why ministers’ refused to sanction the deployment of a crack team of military electronic warfare specialists who could have brought the crisis to a halt just hours after it started.

Gemma Allard, who had an eight-year relationship with Mr Gait and is the mother of his 15-year-old son, runs Allard Double Glazing in Crowborough, where Paul works, with her father John.

He said he could account for Mr Gait’s movements over the last week and could have provided police with a clear alibi ‘if they had only asked.’

The 68-year-old claims he was forced to contact police himself but was unable to get through to anybody as he tried to clear Mr Gait’s name. He said ‘no police officers bothered to call him back.’

Mr Allard said that on Wednesday and most of Thursday, Mr Gait had been installing guttering for a client and on Friday the ex-soldier had been driving around Mr Allard’s injured daughters.

Speaking yesterday, he said: ‘Obviously the police could have handled it better just by asking who, when and where. The police have handled this absolutely appallingly, they really have.

‘All it would have taken was for them to call me and contact me as his employer and I could have confirmed [his movements].

‘I discovered on Friday evening that he had been arrested. I got onto the police Saturday evening, but I couldn’t get through to anybody, there was just somebody who said I’ll take notes and pass that message on.

‘But they never did get back to me, there was no return contact.’  

Neighbours of the couple had said they would ‘be surprised’ if they had anything to do with the incident

Mr Allard added: ‘I know Paul well, he’s worked for me for 17 years and this is going to hit him like a 10-tonne truck. Paul Gait is as harmless as a bloody new born fly. He really is, he’s the most inoffensive bloke you’ll ever meet.

The suspects: Who could have carried out the drone attack? 

Environmental activist group: Groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Plane Stupid have been carrying out increasingly high-profile stunts in recent months, but no one has claimed responsibility over yesterday’s action. 

Speaking to MailOnline, an Extinction Rebellion spokesman said the group had nothing to do with the drone. She added that the police had not been in contact with them about the incident at Gatwick.

‘Lone wolf’: The incident may be the work of an anarchistic loner who wanted to make an impact and cause carnage.

Foreign power: Some experts say the sophistication of the equipment used suggests a hostile foreign government may be involved.

Anti-noise campaigners: It is possible a local resident with a grudge against aircraft noise carried out the drone flights in retaliation at the airport. 

Immigration campaigners: In the wake of convictions of the ‘Stansted 15’ earlier this month, a case involving activists who stopped a deportation flight, it is possible a copycat campaigner tried to stop a planned deportation.

Extortionist: Some have suggested an extortionist could be using the financial damage caused by the drone flight to extort money out of one of the many businesses hurt. 

‘Although there was a complete lack of evidence, the police ripped his house apart. He refers to me as a second father and he always comes to me if there are any problems in his life. I know this will mentally destroy him.

‘Paul Gait doesn’t own a drone. The drone he had he sold back in mid-summer. It was only a silly little one – anyone could have gone and bought in Hamleys.

‘Sussex Police have really dropped the ball on this. I have always supported the police and I like to think I always would but in this case I think they have really got it wrong.

‘Let’s also not overlook the fact I am wondering what long-term damage this would have on my business.’

Friends accused detectives of ‘screwing up’ the inquiry by rushing to detain the couple despite a ‘complete lack of evidence’. 

They expressed shock over the arrests, describing Miss Kirk as ‘not great with technology’ and window fitter Mr Gait as ‘harmless as a bloody newborn fly’.

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: ‘It’s obvious the police have screwed this up big time. We think they arrested him because he’d been in trouble over his helicopters about two years ago.

‘His neighbour called police because he was flying it over the cul-de-sac. The theory is they swooped on them because of his history flying the drone.

‘But obviously the person who has really done it has done a runner in the time they’ve been interviewing Paul and Elaine.’

She added: ‘Clearly they were under lots of pressure to arrest someone, and this couple happened to live near Gatwick and owned a drone.’ 

Counter drone equipment was deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport on Saturday, as the airport and airlines worked to clear the backlog caused by the incident 

He added: ‘Both people have fully co-operated with our enquiries and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick.

‘It is important to remember that when people are arrested in an effort to make further enquiries it does not mean that they are guilty of an offence and Sussex Police would not seek to make their identity public.

‘Our inquiry continues at a pace to locate those responsible for the drone incursions, and we continue to actively follow lines of investigation.

‘We ask for the public’s continued support by reporting anything suspicious, contacting us with any information in relation to the drone incidents at Gatwick.’

Police at British airports will be armed with drone-catching bazookas which can trap rogue miniature aircraft in nets as fears grow of Gatwick copycats 

By Amie Gordon for MailOnline

Police at Britain’s biggest airports are set to be armed with drone-killing bazookas in the wake of the Gatwick attack which grounded tens of thousands of passengers. 

Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport are testing anti-drone weapons which fire a mortar-like projectile containing a net to snare a flying drone within a range of 130 yards.

After the crisis that brought misery to more than 140,000 travellers last week, senior government figures have now agreed to enlist the use of military warfare technologies in a bid to stop copycat attacks. 

A team of officers at Heathrow have already been armed with the SkyWall 100 system (file photo)


The SkyWall 100 counter-measure system designed for civil drone threat.

It is lightweight and portable, so it can be used by a single operator on foot.

It uses compressed gas to power a ‘smart launcher,’ along with a programmable projectile.

After launch, a parachute floats the whole package safely down to the ground for collection.

So far, the SkyWall 100 is the first system that will be released.

Other models include the SkyWall 200, a semi-permanent device that can be carried by two people, and the SkyWall 300, a permanent installation.

Source: Openworks 

According to The Sunday Times, a team of officers at Heathrow have already been armed with the SkyWall 100 system, which will put into use in a matter of weeks. 

SkyWall 100 is a drone-capturing system which was developed three years ago by UK-based OpenWorks Engineering.

The operator mounts the bazooka-like mechanism onto a shoulder to locate the drone in question with the help of a smart scope.

While the operator closes in on the target, the scope provides constant feedback for a more precise aim.

The computer tracks the flight path of the drone, and calculates the necessary projectile trajectory to intercept it.

Then, the projectile is launched, opening up into a net in the air to capture the drone. 

A parachute then floats the whole package, including the projectiles and the drone, safely down to the ground for collection.

This allows for capture of the drone without destroying it, so officials can perform forensic investigations.

If the operator’s aim is off, and they happen to miss the drone, the parachute will still deploy and return to the ground so the parts can be reused.

The counter-drone system can even be equipped with audible and visual alarms.

The creators say this system is cost effective, as it has a low initial cost and the projectiles can be refurbished and reused.

SkyWall 100 deploys a parachute after ensnaring the drone, so it can be recovered intact on the ground for intelligence gathering 

The operator mounts the bazooka-like mechanism onto a shoulder to locate the drone in question with the help of a smart scope (pictured). Then, the projectile is launched, opening up into a net in the air to capture the drone 

Crack RAF unit could have downed drone causing chaos for tens of thousands at Gatwick…but ministers refused to let them help 

By Mark Nichol for the Mail on Sunday 

A crack team of military electronic warfare specialists were prevented from bringing the Gatwick drone crisis to a halt just hours after it started because Ministers refused to sanction their deployment.

Ten troops from the Royal Air Force 2 Field Communications Squadron and four from the Army’s 14 Signal Regiment were put on standby following the first sighting at 9pm on Wednesday.

The highly skilled units were poised to be flown into Gatwick in Chinook helicopters and were ready to use sophisticated anti-drone weaponry which would have intercepted and crippled the device. It could even have tracked down the culprits.

But The Mail on Sunday has been told by high-level Whitehall sources that officials at the Department for Transport and the Home Office stopped the troops taking action for up 18 hours – as the situation descended into a crisis that brought misery to more than 140,000 travellers.

Military electronic warfare specialists were prevented from bringing the Gatwick drone crisis to a halt just hours after it started by Ministers (pictured, military equipment guarded by an airman on the airport’s roof on Saturday)

Last night a source said: ‘Keeping the military at bay when they had the expertise and the kit ready to go on Wednesday night was madness.

‘I think this situation could have been brought under control 24 hours earlier had the right decisions been taken.

‘There was a reluctance in the Department for Transport, which is responsible for Gatwick, and to some extent in the Home Office, to use the Armed Forces and as a result the airport was paralysed for longer.

‘The incident has to be a huge wake-up call for Government departments and Ministers who sat on their hands in the early stages of the crisis and made it much worse than it needed to be.

‘Next time it could be a terrorist attack on an airport using drones – and hundreds of lives could be at stake.’

An array of anti-drone technology helped to reopen Gatwick Airport after almost 36 hours of chaos

The decision not to deploy the troops is all the more shocking because strict laws prevent police and other law enforcement agencies from using jamming equipment which would have neutralised the drone.

But the Armed Forces are exempt from these regulations and can use this highly effective kit in the event of a national emergency.

As the troops waited at their UK bases to fly to Gatwick Airport, drones were seen repeatedly during Thursday, disrupting 246 departures and 202 arrivals, and affecting 72,500 passengers.

Finally a formal request for military assistance was made by Sussex Police at 3.56pm on Thursday, 19 hours after the first sighting of drones at Gatwick.

The support of the Armed Forces to civil authorities in the UK is officially known as Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) and is strictly regulated.

The role is part of the National Security Strategy and involves troops being brought in to provide niche capabilities, such as defusing bombs or assisting police in anti-terror operations.

Under MACA guidelines, a Government department must make a formal request for help when there is a clear reason for troops to be involved. This is usually agreed at ministerial level. Military assistance is co-ordinated by the Ministry of Defence’s Operations Directorate in London which, it is understood, became involved in the Gatwick crisis on Wednesday night.

This newspaper has also been told that the military teams are expected to remain at Gatwick for the next fortnight to protect the airport from further drone incursions – a decision which means the troops will spend Christmas away from their families.

Last night, the Department for Transport refused to say what, if any, additional security measures would be introduced at other UK airports to combat the threat of drones, some of which are large enough to wreck a plane’s engine if they collided, potentially leading to the deaths of hundreds of passengers.

Passengers sit and wait for more information regarding their flights on Saturday morning

A Transport Department spokesman said: ‘I cannot comment on operational matters.’

In the departures line at Gatwick on Saturday was the Shorrock family, from Oxford, who were flying to Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps for a skiing trip.

Vivienne Shorrock was ‘relieved’ to have avoided the drone disruption as she was worried the family’s non-refundable holiday would go to waste.

‘But then we thought well it’s a middle class problem isn’t it. Oh no, we can’t go on a skiing holiday,’ she said.

‘In perspective some people have suffered real losses by not getting where they want to go to be with family.’

David Shorrock joked the drone drama was a ‘nice distraction from Brexit’ before offering a novel solution to the problem.

‘They should’ve got some farmers here. They would’ve soon sorted it out,’ he said.

‘You get 100 young farmers here with a flagon of cider. Free cider for anyone who shoots the drone.’

Planes were grounded again at 5pm on Friday when a drone was sighted above the airfield before air traffic resumed with severe delays.

One flight from Morocco appeared to be just moments away from landing when it was forced to divert only 1,000 feet above the ground last night while other passengers were sitting ready for take-off when pilots told them of another sighting.

Just over an hour later Gatwick said planes had returned to the air, saying the ‘military measures in place at the airport’ would ensure the safety of passengers.

The Army had earlier used jamming devices in the hope of knocking the drone out of the sky as police scoured the Sussex countryside in a bit to find the culprit. 

Passengers were left with Christmas plans ruined, with some forced to abandon holidays abroad while others struggled to return to the UK in time for December 25.

One had to fork out thousands of dollars for a one-way ticket from New York to get back to the UK from New York after her flight could not reach Gatwick on Friday morning.

Scarlette Tidy was booked on a Norwegian Air flight to Gatwick but by the time she was told the trip was cancelled, all the airline’s flights to London were sold out until after Christmas.

With passengers waiting two hours for a ‘live chat’ on Norwegian’s website she was forced to spend over $3,000 – several times what she had originally paid – to reach her family in time for Christmas.

Another passenger, Emma Jewell, told MailOnline she and her boyfriend were stranded in the Dominican Republic after her flight to Gatwick had been cancelled.

She said the airline had rebooked them on a flight to Heathrow via Philadelphia, but her boyfriend’s ESTA for the United States did not come through in time and they could not board the flight.

The couple then boarded a flight to New York only to find there was a problem with the air conditioning, leaving them waiting on the tarmac and certain to miss their connection to the UK. 

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