Gatwick drone disruption: Review of police response expected this month

Gatwick Airport runway during the disruption due to alleged drone sightings. Photo by Eddie Mitchell
Gatwick Airport runway during the disruption due to alleged drone sightings. Photo by Eddie Mitchell

A review of Sussex Police’s actions during the Gatwick Airport drone shutdown is expected at the end of the month.

The airport was closed for more than 30 hours shortly before Christmas after reports that drones had been sited near the runway.

The ensuing chaos saw thousands stranded, flights cancelled, and confusion over how many drones there were, who they belonged to and whether they had even been there in the first place.

At her monthly performance meeting, Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, was told by Chief Constable Giles York that the College of Policing was assisting with a ‘structured debrief’ of the incident.

Describing the incident as an ‘attack’ and a ‘deliberate and sustained’ criminal act, Mr York said it had led to more than 800 extra shifts being worked, seen officers knocking on the doors of 1,000 homes and prompted searches at 25 sites.

He added: “There is still a dedicated senior investigating officer committed to this enquiry with a full team working to explore all avenues.”

Describing the situation as ‘unprecedented’, he told Mrs Bourne: “The capability to deal with such attacks nationally has been strengthened as a result of this incident.”

At a meeting of the Sussex police and crime panel, Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) told Mrs Bourne her officers ‘didn’t come out of this looking very good’ and said the reputation of the force had been ‘damaged’.

He also mentioned the ‘wholly unacceptable’ way a Crawley couple found their names ‘leaked’ after they were arrested and held for 36 hours over the incident.

The couple were released without charge and police said it was clear they had no involvement in the incident.

Mrs Bourne said: “I have full confidence in my chief constable and I found some of the reporting around this absolutely distasteful.

“I would just like to put on record again that Sussex Police did not divulge the names of the couple that were arrested – and also that arresting some one doesn’t imply that they are guilty.”

Mr York said he hoped to make ‘aspects’ of the College of Policing report public when it is published at the end of the month.