Every Sunday afternoon Paul Gait would stand on his doorstep working the controls of a drone that whizzed above his suburban cul-de-sac.
Few of his neighbours took much notice. ‘That was just Paul, a big kid, really,’ said one. Before drones it was helicopters and before that it was remote-controlled cars.
While some might have considered his drone hobby a little anti-social, both Paul, a double-glazing fitter, and his wife Elaine, were popular in their home town of Crawley, West Sussex, five miles from Gatwick.
Neighbours regarded them as solidly dependable and community-minded. Yesterday, plenty expressed the view that police had simply got the wrong couple, with some suggesting that the pressure to get results had led to hasty arrests.
Paul Gait, 47, and his wife Elaine Kirk, 54, both from Crawley, were arrested in the town shortly after 10pm on Friday. They were released without charge on Sunday morning
Neighbour Bob Simpkin, 74, saw Mr Gait being carted away in a van by police late on Friday night.
‘Suddenly I heard screaming and shouting. I went out to see what was going on, and I saw a man being taken away,’ he said.
‘I thought it was rowdy behaviour from youngsters. Not in a million years could I have imagined what it was really about.’
The couple were questioned last night over the drone that brought Gatwick to a standstill. An incident which – mainly for the way it exposed Ministers’ and officials’ failings – stunned a nation and ruined Christmas for more than 140,000 air passengers.
At their Kent home last night, Mr Gait’s parents, who are in their 70s, watched in sheer disbelief the 6pm TV news, which included film of their son’s home being searched.
Close to tears, his father, who asked not to be named, slowly shook his head. Beside him his wife, wide-eyed, pressed her hand over her mouth. She said: ‘We’re in total shock. We can’t believe it.’
The couple had just learned that it was their son who had been arrested. Glancing at her husband she said: ‘I was just cooking dinner, but now I don’t suppose you want it, do you? ‘
‘No, I don’t feel like eating,’ he replied.
Search for evidence: Police in Crawley yesterday where the couple were arrested on Friday night in the wake of the Gatwick Airport chaos which left hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers stranded just days before Christmas
Slowly, he told us that his son joined the Army straight from school.
A gunner in the Royal Artillery, he did two tours of Northern Ireland and a stint in Bosnia during the war in the early 1990s.
‘He was brave and served his country, and always did as he was asked,’ his father said.
‘There is no way he would ever put anyone’s life in danger.’
After leaving the Army, Mr Gait worked as a security guard for the council in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he monitored the town’s CCTV cameras.
If he witnessed suspicious or any anti-social behaviour, his job was to alert Kent Police.
Mr Gait now works for a double-glazing company, Allard Windows, in Crowborough, East Sussex.
His Facebook profile depicts him as an easy-going, hands-on dad who likes tinkering with toy planes.
He lists ‘radio-controlled flying’ as one of his interests and ‘planes’ as another. Two years ago, he reviewed drone company Vifly on Facebook, noting that ‘the quality of the kits are amazing’ and ‘I look forward to dealing with them in the new year.’
His father insisted that his son would simply not have had time to carry out the Gatwick attacks because he was at work all week.
An officer checks the boot of a car (left) as police continue their investigation. Paul Gait and his wife Elaine (pictured together right) were arrested on Friday but Mr Gait’s boss said he was at work and could not have been the culprit
‘And it has been said eco-warriors might be behind it – but he’s no eco-warrior,’ he added. ‘He likes to fish and he likes his meat. Everyone is phoning me up and saying, “It can’t be him. That’s not Paul.”
‘He has never been in trouble. He had a big model helicopter but he sold that a couple of years ago. He has had small drones. Somebody has pointed the finger at him and said, “He likes to fly drones”. But Paul wouldn’t do something like this.’
Others painted a similar portrait. As well as being his boss, Gemma Allard had an eight-year relationship with Mr Gait and is the mother of his 15-year-old son.
She said: ‘Our son is worried but I’ve told him we’ll see his dad for Christmas.
‘When it [the drone attack] started, Paul was sitting in my front room in Crowborough having a cup of tea, and the rest of the day he was working at my clients’ houses. So he was not even near Gatwick – he was 17 miles away.
‘I know what they [the police] are doing – they are trying to do something to please the public, but they have got the wrong man, and they need to let him out and catch the people behind this.
A model plane enthusiast, Paul Gait offered this radio-controlled Second World War fighter for sale on Facebook. He sold the model of an American P-51C Mustang, above, for £200 in July 2017 – telling buyers to ‘collect from Gatwick’
‘He is not a drone enthusiast, he is a model aircraft enthusiast. He had a drone, but he has not got a drone at present, and he was that far away. The police don’t want to hear it because then they’ll have hard evidence [that he didn’t do it] and they don’t want to release him. They want to keep the public happy.’
She suspects that someone ‘with a bone to pick with him’ maliciously tipped off police about him having a drone.
Others defended Mr Gait’s wife Elaine, whom he married in 2013. She has worked in sales for Unilever for the past 20 years. Her ex-husband Ian Kirk said: ‘There is no way that Elaine could do this. She hates drones and she cannot even operate them.’
A former Unilever colleague added: ‘She’s a sweet, quiet lady who has a son who she adores. I can’t see her being involved.’
Sussex Police confirmed last night that they had arrested two people ‘on suspicion of disrupting services of civil aviation aerodrome to endanger or likely to endanger safety of operations or persons’, which carries a maximum life sentence.
The law was used to convict businessman Shaun Lees who ‘snapped’ after a row with the boss of Coventry Airport weeks after 9/11 and flew a hired helicopter up to the air traffic control tower.
He was jailed for three years, cut to two on appeal.
‘He couldn’t have been flying a drone over Gatwick, he was fitting windows at the time!’ Boss of double glazing worker, 47, arrested with his wife, 54, insists police have ‘got the wrong guy’
By James Fielding in Crawley and Charlie Bayliss and Tim Stickings for MailOnline
A model plane enthusiast and his 54-year-old wife have been revealed as the suspects arrested over the Gatwick Airport drone mayhem – but his boss claims he was working and could not have been the culprit.
Forensic squads have been searching the home of window-fitter Paul Gait, 47, and his wife Elaine Kirk home but the probe was thrown into confusion as Mr Gait’s boss John Allard vouched for him and said he was at work.
Mr Allard, who runs a double glazing firm in Crowborough, said he could ‘account for Paul’s movements between the hours of 7am and 5pm last Monday to Friday’.
The 47-year-old suspect had been ‘part of a three-man team fitting glass doors and windows in the Crowborough area’, his employer said.
The couple were arrested in Crawley, the West Sussex town where they live and which has previously been a battleground for environmental groups opposing the expansion of the airport.
Paul Gait, 47, and his wife Elaine Kirk, 54, both from Crawley, were arrested in the town shortly after 10pm on Friday
Paul Gait (right) and his wife Elaine (left) pictured out with a friend for drinks in a pub
A police officer outside the home in Crawley, West Sussex, which police have been searching after arresting two people
Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Allard added: ‘He is a reliable family man who has been with me for 17 years and has never given me any problems at all.
‘He may have picked up the interest in model flying from me because I’ve been doing it for 40 years.’
Mr Allard added: ‘I also know Paul’s wife Elaine and as far as I know she has no interest at all in drones or model flying.’
Forensic teams are said to be trawling through a van outside of a property in Auckland Close, Crawley, which is around five miles away from the airport.
The arrests come as police look into theories as to whether eco-warriors or a group of activists protesting deportations of migrants could be behind the drone mayhem.
Crawley, a town with a population of just over 100,000, is just five miles away from Gatwick and under the airport’s flightpath.
Activists in the town have previously declared a ‘state of emergency’ in the countryside to counter a proposed second runway.
Around 1,000 aircraft have been cancelled or diverted amid this week’s mayhem, plunging 140,000 passengers into chaos since Wednesday night.
Flights have resumed by many are operating with delays after three days of disruption, with some passengers having to abandon holidays or struggling to get home for Christmas.
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
Police and a television crew in Auckland Close in Crawley on Saturday night after the two suspects were arrested on Friday
Another day of misery: Passengers wait at Gatwick’s South Terminal today, as the crisis entered a third day. The drone is confirmed to have flown over the airport again on Friday evening, prompting another closure of the runway
Neighbours of the couple have said they would ‘be surprised’ if they had anything to do with the incident
Auckland Close (pictured above) where the couple are said to live
Speaking to MailOnline Ludmila Adomako, 69, a former Home Office worker and neighbour of the suspects, said: ‘I used to see Paul flying a small drone around the cul-de-sac from his driveway.
‘The drone wasn’t very big but he would fly a model aircraft and helicopter as well as race a small model sports car around his house.
‘He worked for a double glazing firm. In the summer he knocked on my door and gave me a quote for having some glass in my conservatory replaced. It was the first time I’d really spoken to him.
‘We got on to talking about family and I told him that my daughter had died and he put his arm around me and said ‘I’m sorry to hear that’. I thought that was quite a nice human touch.
‘He said that he had a teenage son who was living with his ex-wife and he worried about him all the time.
‘Paul and his wife also had a daughter who lived with them. I can’t say for sure how old she was but it was either late teens or early 20s.
‘The police came round to speak to me about Paul and Elaine this morning and I asked the officers if it was about the drone attack on Gatwick and they said yes.
‘I think I saw Paul last night just after 9pm, someone was moving his van from the street onto his drive. I was sure it was him but maybe it was a police officer. I can’t be sure.’
Another neighbour who asked not to be named said: ‘He’s like a big kid to be honest with his gadgets. In the summer he’s always stood outside the front of his house flying either a drone, a helicopter or aircraft.
‘He had a few drones, one that I saw him flying a few times was pretty big, he used to have to put it in his van sideways so it’d fit.
‘I spoke to him a few times but he never mentioned anything about Gatwick or complaining about the noise from planes.
‘We are over the flightpath, though, and it can be quite noisy, particularly over the summer but you get used to it. I start work at 3am and left home at 2.30am and there was a squad car parked outside the house.’
Passengers wait with their luggage at Gatwick check-in desks after they were told the runway had shut again on Friday night
Counter drone equipment was deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport, as the airport and airlines work to clear the backlog caused by the incident
Passengers queue up for news regarding their easyJet flights on Saturday morning (pictured). Around 1,000 aircraft have been cancelled or diverted, affecting approximately 140,000 passengers since Wednesday night, a Gatwick spokesman said
Bob Simpkin, 74, said: ‘Paul is what you could describe as an average person, a hard working builder. I was shocked to hear what happened, I do believe the police have got the wrong people – this is totally out of character.
‘Last night I heard a lot of screaming and shouting, when I looked outside I saw a woman being led to a police van by a female copper.
‘The van was parked outside their house and I saw a woman led into the van. Paul and Elaine have been together for about five years – I sometimes see a young lad of about ten there too.
‘Elaine doesn’t seem the person to get involved in any trouble – she works a lot too from what I can tell. Were they the couple who flew the drone at the airport? I don’t think so.
‘Their drone was just not big enough, it is only about a metre wide. Paul is just not stupid enough to do that – I’ve got the feeling the police are wrong. He is more into his model helicopters, I’ve seen him use them, but only around his property.’
Another neighbour, who wished not to be named, said: ‘They don’t seem the type to do this, they’re down to earth. He’s a builder and she works somewhere six days a week.
‘Paul likes his gadgets, he only ever used his drone in the street – you could hear all that buzzing sound. I haven’t seen them use it recently but its winter so it’s dark.
‘He used to do it in the street, everyone was quite impressed, especially the kids. They keep themselves to themselves really.’
Another neighbour said: ‘Paul is a hard working family man, it is unbelievable. These are just two lovely people that met dog walking and worked six days a week. Police have been there since late last night.’
A worker can been seen on the roof top at Gatwick airport, after fitting counter drone equipment to the roof
The arrests come as police look into theories as to whether eco-warriors or a group of activists protesting deportations of migrants could be behind the drone mayhem. A police car leaving Crawley police station this morning (pictured)
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.
Mr Gait is also said to have fallen out with his next door neighbour over a boundary issue.
A friend of his told MailOnline: ‘Paul told me that his neighbour’s hedge was quite overgrown and that he was having difficulty parking his van.
‘He said that he’d asked the neighbour if he could trim the hedge back slightly but he refused and so they didn’t speak again after that.
‘Paul said that people would ask if they could have a go on his drone or helicopter when they saw him flying but he told me ‘there’s no way I’d allow that as these things can be dangerous in the wrong hands’
‘I haven’t seen Paul or Elaine all day. They have two dogs, a Jack Russell and a pug, which they take out for walks every day but we’ve not seen them at all.
‘From what I know of him, I’d be staggered if he’s the one responsible for crippling Gatwick and causing all that chaos.’
Last night motorist Paul Motts, 52, revealed he saw a man in his 30s wearing hi-vis clothing and crouching over a drone in a country lane near the West Sussex airport on Thursday.
Mr Motts said the suspicious man had been trying to ‘get away as fast as he could’ as Sussex Police combed the countryside to find the drone pilot.
He told The Sun: ‘I was delivering a parcel and drove past a suspicious man in fluorescent cycling gear crouching over a large drone which was all lit up.
‘It looked like he was packing the drones away. Two minutes later we turned around and came across him cycling away.
‘I expect he wanted to disassemble the drone as quickly as possible and get away as fast as he could.’
Crawley is just over five miles away from Gatwick, the UK’s busiest airport which sees hundreds of flights leave to and from the transport hub every day
What is the law on drones? Who can buy them and how flying too close to an airport can land you five years in prison
The major flight disruption at London Gatwick today comes just five months after new laws banned drones from flying too close to airports.
Legislation implemented in July means people in Britain are now banned from flying the devices above 400ft and within 1km (0.6 miles) of airport boundaries.
Drone users who flout the height and airport boundary restrictions could face an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
Laws introduced to the Commons in May mean people flying drones which weigh 250g or more will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Drone pilots will be required to take an online safety test under the new legislation, with the requirements set to come into force in November next year.
Research has found a drone weighing 400g (14oz) could smash a helicopter windscreen, and one at 2kg (4lbs) could critically damage an airliner’s windscreen.
In July, the DfT said it was considering introducing an age restriction, banning children from owning drones weighing at least 250g.
It also said it was considering giving police the power to issue on-the-spot fines of up to £300 for misuse and the ability to seize drones being used irresponsibly.
There have already been 117 near misses between manned aircraft and drones up until November this year, compared to 93 for the whole of 2017.
Another neighbour, speaking from a home illuminated by neon Christmas lights and tinsel, described seeing Paul Gait operating a remote-controlled car, Jeep and a small helicopter.
The man, who did not want to be named, said: ‘I remember laughing one time because I thought he was going to crash it, I don’t think he knew what he was doing, he was driving this remote controlled Jeep in the street.
‘He had a helicopter or a model plane too. I remember thinking ‘look at that big kid with his toys’!’
Sussex Police said in their statement: ‘As part of our ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport, Sussex Police made two arrests just after 10pm on Friday (December 21).
‘Our investigations are still ongoing and our activities at the airport continue to build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions from drones, by deploying a range of tactics.
‘We continue to urge the public, passengers and the wider community around Gatwick to be vigilant and support us by contacting us immediately if they believe they have any information that can help us in bringing those responsible to justice.
‘The arrests we have made are a result of our determination to keep the public safe from harm, every line of inquiry will remain open to us until we are confident that we have mitigated further threats to the safety of passengers.
‘Anyone with information about the incident or who may have suspicions about the drone operators is asked to report online or call 101 quoting Operation Trebor. If you see anyone acting suspiciously in the area of the airport, please dial 999 immediately.
‘A 47-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman, both from Crawley, were arrested in the town on suspicion of disrupting services of civil aviation aerodrome to endanger or likely to endanger safety of operations or persons. They remained in custody at 11am on Saturday.’
A Gatwick spokesman said earlier: ‘Many people will be due to fly today and there will be longer delays perhaps.
‘But broadly things are going in the right direction. By the end of the weekend, things should be back to normal.’
On Saturday, the queue for check-ins stretched the length of the departures hall – while a heavy stream of passengers poured through the arrivals gates as a full schedule of flights operated.
Passengers sit and wait for more information regarding their flights this morning, as many flights still have delays on Saturday
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
In the departures line 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.
Police said they were closing in on the pilots who allegedly used ‘multiple’ drones to shut down Gatwick’s runway and are even claimed to have taunted officers by zooming over their heads while flashing lights at them.
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.
She said the experience had been a ‘total disaster’ but that she was now en route back to London.
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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