Police have today appeared to backtrack on claims that there ‘may never have been a drone’ a day after they were ridiculed for the ‘appalling investigation’ into the Gatwick chaos.
Sussex Police have now released a ‘clarification’ statement following an interview Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley gave to the BBC in which he raised the possibility there was no device after all.
A source close to the Gatwick investigation said Det Ch Supt Tingley’s comments had been ‘taken out of context’.
They said in a statement that they are now ‘actively investigating sightings of drone activity in the area’ following 67 different reports.
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 were released from custody after more than 36 hours yesterday
They said they had received sightings from the evening December 19 to December 21 that brought Gatwick to a standstill and grounded more than 1,000 flights and 14,000 passengers.
This afternoon they also released a further statement in which they ‘unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days.’
Today police have acknowledged that suggestions there may never have been a drone were down to ‘poor communications’.
Ministers were briefed on the latest situation at the airport in an hour-long conference call chaired by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Following the call, a Government source said police accepted that there had been ‘poor communications’ and described the handling of the communications as a ‘mess up.’
There were more than 200 drone sightings, and police had taken 67 statements, including from police officers and airport workers.
Gatwick also confirmed a drone did cause the travel disruption, saying in a statement: ‘We are clear that there were multiple confirmed sightings of drone activity at the airport.’
It comes as neighbouring Surrey Police today told how panicked locals living in Redhill reported suspicious drones flying near Gatwick.
Paul Gait, 47, and his wife Elaine, 54, arriving home on Sunday morning after spending 36 hours in police custody
But when officers arrived at the area, some seven miles from the airport, they discovered they were actually three red lights on a crane.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday when he was asked about speculation there was never such a drone flown over the airport, Mr Tingley said: ‘Of course, that’s a possibility. We are working with human beings saying they have seen something.
‘Until we’ve got more clarity around what they’ve said, the detail – the time, place, direction of travel, all those types of things – and that’s a big task.’
He also said they had found a damaged drone near the airpor, but there was ‘no available footage and they are relying on witness accounts’ – despite witnesses providing MailOnline with video footage of drones hovering above airspace last week.
In a statement on their media website from Mr Tingley, titled ‘Clarification of Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley’s interview around reported sightings of drones’ it read: ‘We are actively investigating sightings of drone activity at Gatwick Airport following 67 reports from the evening of the 19 December to 21 December from the public, passengers, police officers and staff at the airport.
‘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.’
Later Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said: ‘We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from 19 to 21 December.
‘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.’
One bogus sighting was today 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.
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
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.
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.’
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.
Det Ch Supt Tingley said the arrests made on Friday night were as a result of a tip-off from a member of the public.
‘I’m completely satisfied the arrests were lawful, bearing in mind the burden of proof and likely suspicion at the time of arrest,’ he said.
‘Obviously we had to be sure prior to release, in terms of that investigation, they were no longer suspects. I won’t apologise, but what I will say is we really do appreciate their co-operation and we have put a lot of effort and resources into supporting them when they were released from questioning.’
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 the who, when and where. The police have handled this absolutely appallingly, they really have.
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
‘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.’
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 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.
‘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.’
Det Ch Supt Tingley said police were running a three-pronged investigation including working through information relating to ‘persons of interest’, investigating more than 67 drone sightings and forensically examining the damaged drone.
But he explained the examination could be hampered by the wet weather on Friday and Saturday, which could have washed away evidence.
Counter drone equipment was deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport, 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.’
Neighbours of the couple have said they would ‘be surprised’ if they had anything to do with the incident
It comes as the airport offered a £50,000 reward through Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the chaos.
This is in addition to the £10,000 currently offered by Lord Ashcroft, chairman of the charity.
‘Someone, somewhere knows either the perpetrator or perpetrators responsible for this, or has information relating to these incidents. But secondly, our tactical response, should there be any more drone sightings, is still in place,’ he added.
Neighbours had described how model aircraft enthusiast Mr Gait was regularly seen flying remote controlled cars and planes near the detached property he lives in, which is just one mile from the runway.
As the couple were yesterday brought home in a police van escorted by two police cars, they declined to comment on allegations that Mr Gait had been responsible for closing down Gatwick Airport.
Mr Gait’s parents, meanwhile, insisted their son was a ‘nice boy’ who would ‘simply not have had the time’ to carry out the attack.
Speaking from their Kent home, Paul’s parents Margaret and Francis, who are in their 70s, emphatically defended their son, claiming: ‘There is no way he would ever put anyone’s life in danger.’
The 47-year-old’s mother Margaret said her son was a ‘nice person’ and the drone attack was just ‘not the sort of thing he would do.’
His father Francis added: ‘He was brave and served his country, and always did as he was asked.
‘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.’
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 COUNTER-DRONE BAZOOKA
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.
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.
Passengers sit and wait for more information regarding their flights this morning, as many flights still have delays on Saturday
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.
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.
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.