New police unit to track down and interfere with illegal drones across UK

20 October 2019, 14:24 | Updated: 21 October 2019, 03:22

The police are going to be given new powers and more resources to tackle illegal drone use.

Drones have caused chaos at airports - and last December, more than 1,000 flights were cancelled and 140,000 passengers affected because of a series of sightings at Gatwick.

As part of the plans, a mobile "counter-drone" unit capable of tracking down and interfering with the devices will be set up to respond to incidents across the UK.

The Home Office said the move was part of a plan to "deter, detect and disrupt the misuse of drones".

It is also hoped that the unit will clamp down on drones bringing drugs, weapons, phones and other contraband into jails.

A number of airports have been forced to suspend flights for several hours due to drone activity this year, including Heathrow.

There had been 129 separate sightings of drones during the three days of disruption at Gatwick in the run-up to Christmas last year.

Sussex Police said its investigation into the incident cost £790,000.

Weeks later, the UK's two busiest airports - Heathrow and Gatwick - announced they were investing millions of pounds in anti-drone technology.

And in March, no-fly zones around airports were extended from 1km to 5km to prevent disruption.

A document setting out the new government proposals said: "Our aim will be to stop malicious and illegal drone use as early as possible, ideally before a drone is used in a crime.

"The government will consider what further product standards or restrictions within the drone sector could reduce risks associated with the misuse of drones without disproportionately affecting legitimate users, setting new international standards."

The police powers will be set out in the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which was announced in the Queen's Speech last week, while other pledges have been set out in a counter-drone strategy.

Work would be carried out with behavioural scientists, law enforcement and "at-risk" sites to find the best ways of deterring people from using drones maliciously.

The document added: "We will encourage the public to report instances of drone misuse and equate wider vigilance campaigns with suspicious drone use, as much as other terrorist or criminal activity.

"By better publicising prosecutions for drone offences we will make it harder for people to claim ignorance when prosecuted."

Fresh international design standards for manufacturers to fit drones with safety features also form part of the action.

The unmanned aircraft industry is expected to contribute an extra £42bn to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 drones expected to be in use by this date, according to the Home Office.

A Sky News investigation in February revealed there was a 40% increase in the number of reported incidents of the devices being used to commit crimes between 2016 and 2018.

It found forces across the UK received more than 2,400 reports of incidents involving drones in 2018 - including road traffic collisions, criminal damage and voyeurism.

Separate data from the UK Airprox Board said there were 125 near-misses between drones and aircraft reported in 2018 - an increase of more than a third on the 93 recorded during the previous year.

From the end of November, anyone with a drone weighing more than 250g will need to register it with the Civil Aviation Authority and pass a competency test.

Security minister Brandon Lewis said: "This government is proud of the UK's burgeoning drone industry and we will do all that we can to ensure that the UK firmly establishes itself as a world leader in this industry.

"But to ensure the drone industry can thrive in this country we must be able to crack down effectively on those who would use drones to cause harm or disruption.

"There is no silver bullet to help protect our infrastructure and our citizens from malicious or careless drone use."