back to article Police costs for Gatwick drone fiasco double to nearly £900k – and still no one's been charged

Sussex Police's probe of the infamous London Gatwick airport drone fiasco of Christmas 2018 has doubled in cost to nearly £900,000 – and the bungling force still hasn't arrested the person or persons responsible. So far police in Sussex, where the "London" airport is situated, have splurged an eye-watering £886,210 on trying …

  1. Nursing A Semi

    900k Vs 14M

    900k is a drop in the ocean compared to the millions being spent on anti drone measures that won't stop this kind of thing happening again.

    Yes if someone accidently flys a drone near a major airport the new measures may assist plod in locating them, but if anyone with half a brain wants to disrupt airports with drones the new equipment won't rattle them a bit. I would guess given a specific type of drone and the correct tactics a couple of people could spend a day crusing drones down the runway at Gatwick with little to no fear of having their collars felt.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 900k Vs 14M

      " anti drone measures that won't stop this kind of thing happening again."

      Well, if they've bought the *right* bit of kit, they'll be able to say whether a drone sighting is mass hysteria or not, which is a pretty valuable piece of information. I for one don't want to be on an aircraft that hits something like a DJI Inspire.

      1. DiViDeD

        Re: 900k Vs 14M

        "...don't want to be on an aircraft that hits something like a DJI Inspire"

        No need to worry yourself - DJI drones have geofencing built into firmware. I'm not saying that new or updated no fly zones can't be avoided if you refuse to accept firmware updates (although eventually the thing will refuse to fly until it's updated, as I found out on a shoot with my Mavic 2 Pro recently), but I'd have thought something like Gatwick Airport would already be a no fly zone in Firmware 1.0.

        1. Mongrel

          Re: 900k Vs 14M

          "No need to worry yourself - DJI drones have geofencing built into firmware"

          But how secure is the software?

          Four years old, but relevant talk from DEF CON

          Higher end drones are probably more secure, but it's something to consider

        2. Jove Bronze badge

          Re: 900k Vs 14M

          "No need to worry yourself - DJI drones have geofencing built into firmware."

          Posting that comment on a Reg forum sounds more like a challenge to the community than a relevant defence of the specific vendor's products.

    2. MrReal

      Re: 900k Vs 14M

      It's a lot of money for a drone that:

      1. No one ever managed to photograph

      2. Hung around after the 20 minutes it's batteries would have run out

      Skeptics would say there never was a drone.

      1. Mick H.

        Re: 900k Vs 14M

        Absolutely.... Just a cover up excuse for something else much more sinister.. My guess.. Another possible terrorist attack warning... that failed to materialise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 900k Vs 14M

          Don't forget that on the day that nice Mr Blair wanted parliament to vote in favour of a war, the security forces surrounded Heathrow, claiming that terrorists were planning to use a surface-to-air missile there. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for owning that SAM, so presumably it is still in terrorist hands. Unless of course, and heaven forbid it's true, that nice Mr Blair was lying through the teeth and was just frightening Parliament into supporting Mr Bush's holy war against the mooslims.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 900k Vs 14M

            "Nobody has ever been prosecuted for owning that SAM"

            RPG, aimed from the top of a car parking structure. If they where prosecuted, it wouldn't be published.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: secret trials, Blair family, etc

              "If they were prosecuted, it wouldn't be published."

              See e.g. the secret trial of Erol Incedal. Impossible for me to even start to summarise.

     (and elsewhere)

              "On 13 October 2013, armed police blew out the tyres of a car near the Tower of London. That much we know for sure about the arrest and prosecution of Erol Incedal for preparing for acts of terrorism.

              Since then, he has faced two trials for preparing for acts of terrorism. But what was his alleged plan?

              Well, we simply do not know - and the jury at his retrial has decided it did not buy whatever it was being told he was supposed to have done.

              This has been the most secret prosecution since World War Two - and it has ended with the only defendant being cleared.

              A few journalists were permitted to hear to some of the secret Old Bailey sessions - but they will go to prison if they reveal what they learned.

              The rest of us were allowed in to Court Nine for some brief open sessions - but most of the time the doors were locked.

              Two weeks before his arrest, traffic police had stopped the 26-year-old for speeding.

              He was taken to a police station for two hours - and while he was there, officers searched the black, E-class Mercedes.

              They found a note inside a glasses case of the address of a property owned by former Prime Minster Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie.


            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: 900k Vs 14M

              "RPG, aimed from the top of a car parking structure. If they where prosecuted, it wouldn't be published."

              It's hard enough to shoot down an aircraft with a purpose designed guided missile.

              It's even harder to hit one with a machine gun with the right specialized sights, firing lots of tracer bullets way faster and longer ranged than an RPG, which does not have those sights.

              This claim is nonsense.

          2. Turbo Beholder

            Re: 900k Vs 14M

            And Skripals, and whatnot.

            BS rides on BS and whips it with BS. And as long as there's no working mechanism for cleaning it, why won't it?

      2. Muscleguy

        Re: 900k Vs 14M

        Birds have been recorded with calls mimicking all sorts of things. I swear there's a gull around here who has incorporated a mobile ringtone to it's routine. It is not beyond possible that some birds have mistaken drones for members of the opposite sex with a new courtship flight and so have taken to flying like drones in response.

        Stranger things have happened. From far enough away we identify drones vs birds by how they fly. If the birds have started flying like drones this won't do any more.

        1. Jove Bronze badge

          Re: 900k Vs 14M

          "Birds have been recorded with calls mimicking all sorts of things. I swear there's a gull around here who has incorporated a mobile ringtone to it's routine."

          We had a song bird that mimicked the Motorola ring tone at all hours of the night for several years.

      3. Turbo Beholder

        Re: 900k Vs 14M

        Let's sing together: «All aro-ound is So-oviet! All aro-ound is mi-ine!»

    3. Jove Bronze badge

      Re: 900k Vs 14M

      "... a drop in the ocean compared to the millions being spent on anti drone measures that won't stop this kind of thing happening again."

      Perhaps the deployment of a few Jedi atop departing jets might be more effective in your view.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Police have splurged eye-watering millions of 'your money' on the McCanns, and the bungling force still hasn't arrested the person or persons responsible.

    Not seeing your outraged article on that, though. Maybe if a drone had been sighted in Portugal at the time, eh?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: Millions

      See icon (one of quite a few that could have been used).

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Millions

      I feel sorry for the McCanns for loosing a child.

      But why should the McCanns get so much police attention when many other families with missing children get much less?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Millions

        They don't live on a council estate and aren't a minority.

        1. Dr Dan Holdsworth
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Millions

          To be honest, it is difficult to see why the UK police and UK taxpayer should be doing anything other than trying to diplomatically light a fire under the Portuguese police force. The disappearance happened under the jurisdiction of Portugal, and international convention is that each country's police force is responsible for each jurisdiction. So, prod them but it ain't any business of UK plod.

          1. Gomi No Sensei

            Re: Millions

            But didn't the Portuguese police concluded that it was, in all probability, the McCanns wot dunnit?

            1. Stork Silver badge

              Re: Millions

              No they didn't. The officer, who was taken off the case, released a book based on that claim. He is a very dubious character who previously had been suspended for beating a confession out of a mother in a similar case (no clue how he was reinstated).

              The theory was probably pushed to make money and distract from the incompetent handling of the case in the beginning, and is believed by a lot of locals because of the reaction of the McCann's, which has been subdued rather than the emotional which is expected in Portugal.

              I do not think they did it. The stories of them and their friends match and have not changed.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Millions

                I wouldn't trust any 'information' one way or t'other on that subject: it's too politicised. Of course someone did a hatchet job on that officer - doesn't mean any of it is or isn't true.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Millions

            I believe the Portuguese plod have done all that is necessary. The UK were so arrogant that we insisted that we send our own across.

          3. Jove Bronze badge

            Re: Millions

            "To be honest, it is difficult to see why the UK police and UK taxpayer should be doing anything other than trying to diplomatically light a fire under the Portuguese police force."

            Partially because the members of the local police and officials were/are amongst the suspects, and because of the history of similar cases in the country.

      2. Chris G

        Re: Millions

        "But why should the McCanns get so much police attention when many other families with missing children get much less?"

        Perhaps because someone has to fly to Portugal regularly to 'consult' with the Portugese police?

        1. MrReal

          Re: Millions

          They managed to get Gordon Brown's attention, they are obviously well connected.

          Anyone else would have been prosecuted for the actions that they described and admitted to which fall under law for "child neglect".

          The whole thing stinks, Amaral's book is worth a read online.

          1. Muscleguy

            Re: Millions

            Agreed, the closest we ever did was leave our kids locked in a room upstairs while we sat in the hotel bar with a clear view of the stairs and lifts (deliberately so) in Finland, a very safe country.

            In hotels where we had to have two rooms one of us would sleep in each room with one child.

            I was appalled by how the McCanns and their friends behaved yet their culpability has been completely glossed over. Considering that I'm not surprised the Protugese police investigated them and their friends. That is sensible police work.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Millions

              I always thought the McCann reaction was a bit of a deflection strategy. The same here; "Look how much effort we're making to catch the operator of this probably nonexistent quadcopter."

          2. Stork Silver badge

            Re: Millions

            IMHO, Amaral stinks, see above.

            There are three main theories of what happened:

            1) the girl woke up, left without anyone noticing and was never found.

            2) parents killed her accidentally, get rid of the body which is never found. All statements add up (including the claimed alcohol consumption with the bar tab), and they stick to the story while pushing the search for a child they know is dead. For over a decade.

            3) someone abducted her and transported her away without being seen.

            No-one seem to believe 1. Amaral is pushing 2 and the parents 3.

            What is known for sure is that the local police fcked up the first 48 hours, including not checking cars at the border and making a mess of a potential crime scene. A bit embarrassing, right?

      3. Trollslayer

        Re: Millions

        Or nothing if they are lucky.

    3. d3vy

      Re: Millions

      "Not seeing your outraged article on that, though"

      Out of interest how many TECH NEWS sites have you seen covering any aspect the Mcann case?

    4. quartzz

      Re: Millions

      You do wonder what the McCanns know about the head of the Police force, and why the Police seem to carry out their investigations in Portugal, during summer.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

    ...fictitious drones.

    The UK police force's incompetence is matched only be their arrogance.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

      Arrogance? Something for than arrogance. From the article: "Chief Constable Giles York later doubled down on his employees' behaviour, refusing to apologise for the wrongful arrests and suggesting the two innocent people should have been grateful to police for not having them "released under investigation"* "

      That innocents should be grateful that they weren't further harassed? This is just so wrong it boggles the mind. This seems more like Gestapo tactics than anything else.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

      Up to a point, Lord Copper.

      Police come in for a lot of blame. Both for things that are their own fault, and for idiocy by other public or quasi-public bodies like politicians, civil servants, and the judiciary - or perhaps airport authorities. Like in the recent Carl Beech case where they were under huge political and media pressure at the time: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

        "... damned if you do, damned if you don't." So be damned for doing the right thing, not the expedient thing. This is one reason I do not trust the police, and recommend that everyone should take the same stance - they are on no-one's side but their own, followed by that of the Home Office.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

          You're making a dangerous assumption there, that the Home Office is competent enough to know which "side" it's actually on. Other than enforcing the "hostile environment", that is.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

      You are Vladmir "The Impaler" Putin and I claim my free litre of vodka.

    4. Loud Speaker

      Re: £900k is a lot of money to spend investigating...

      £900k is a lot of money

      This is a London Airport - £900k probably represents 10 minutes takings of the Short Stay car park.

  4. jake Silver badge

    More to the point ...

    ... they are spending all this money without a shred of proof that the so-called drone was anything other than mass hysteria. I'm fairly certain ol' Bill from Ockham, Surrey had something to say about that kind of thing.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: More to the point ...

      Yeah but ol’ Bill is in Surrey; over the border.

      In Sussex they still have pitchforks and flaming torches and revere the North Terminal because of the way the sun rises and sets.

      Except Brighton, obvs.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just people with smartphones.

    The whole airport was surrounded by experienced cameramen carrying state of the art gear. They also got no footage of a drone.

    1. Airportworker

      Re: Not just people with smartphones.

      Nope. News crews stayed in their allotted pen, none positioned around the perimeter.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: Not just people with smartphones.

        Last time I went on a viewing roof at an airport the plane spotters had cameras that could have read the papers on the moon,

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Not just people with smartphones.

          Last time I went on a viewing roof at an airport

          I think the public spectator areas (non airside) at Heathrow and Gatwick were closed after 9/11. And I presume during a security clampdown like the drone search, the police would have moved people on from the usual vantage points around the airport.

          1. Jove Bronze badge

            Re: Not just people with smartphones.

            Google maps indicates that there is a viewing area in Terminal 4, but it appears to be enclosed.

            There is/was an open viewing area at a building off the Bath road.

            However, enthusiasts can get close enough to cause potential problems in the area around the Hatton Cross junction with the A3 which would be difficult to police with closing off the roads and businesses in the area. That must still be a big concern.

        2. Daniel 18

          Re: Not just people with smartphones.

          "Last time I went on a viewing roof at an airport the plane spotters had cameras that could have read the papers on the moon,"

          I know I'd be out there with a 200 - 1000 mm lense....

  6. Gordon 10

    TBF to the Sussex Rozzers

    £800k is a drop in the ocean to what the 3 day shutdown cost the Travel industry, so assuming there was something real* and not mass hysteria then its actually money well spent.

    *Yes Im stretching a bit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TBF to the Sussex Rozzers

      "assuming there was something real* and not mass hysteria"

      The initial mass hysteria seems to be assuming a small consumer drone is a significant threat to aircraft.

      AFAIK, no aircraft has been downed by a drone. In fact, AFAIK, no one has ever proved that an airplane has hit a drone in flight.

      Aircraft are designed to be resiliant. This is a good thing, given that they can, in the right conditions, encounter hailstones 15 cm (6 in) in diameter. Many of them. I did see photos of a plane that ran into many of these, at 800 kph (500 mph). They caused substantial damage, but the plane landed safely.

      It may have been a tough plane, but aircraft taking off or approaching an airport will be a lot slower than aircraft at cruise. Remember .5*m*v*v. At 300 kph (200 mph) or so, the impact energy will be 16% of an aircraft hitting the same mass at 800 kph.

      So far, I have not seen any information that shows this to be a danger with a 1 kg, largely plastic, drone.

      Police, on the other hand often run drones 10 to 30 times that mass. And they may not be as restricted, as flying one around an airport may confirm.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    But... But...

    These weren't ordinary drones. They were 'everyone knows' drones, so nobody actually needed to see them to know they were there.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they didn't catch them at the time and any suspect leads are dead then the investigation should be closed. What do they think is going to happen? Someone own up? It's either a case of "seen to be doing something" or "overtime for the plod", take your pick.

    1. Dr Dan Holdsworth
      Black Helicopters

      The investigation is now dead, and should be stopped immediately. Airport CCTV didn't spot any drones. Airport plane spotters didn't spot any drones. Myriads of tourists with smartphone cameras didn't spot any drones, nor even any flies photographed very close up. Hundreds of highly motivated amateurs and paparazzi with state of the art cameras and very high motivation to photograph drones didn't see any. We haven't even had any enterprising teenager with a mini-drone flying it with the airport in the background trying to claim footage.

      Lots and lots of very good witnesses equipped with amazingly good kit and with very strong motivation to get a shot of a drone, and nobody spots a bloody thing.

      There weren't any drones.

      It was all mass hysteria, on the lines of African "penis theft" panics and the like.

      1. batfink

        Plus the fact that the alleged sightings were at 9pm on a winter's night in the rain.

      2. Airportworker

        It is on airport CCTV.

        1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          It is on airport CCTV [citation needed]

          I am more inclined to believe the police have seen a gravy train and jumped aboard it.

          I would love to see a detailed breakdown of how such huge costs have been incurred but I don't for one minute imagine there is one.

          1. d3vy

            "I am more inclined to believe the police have seen a gravy train and jumped aboard it."

            Really? they get paid either way...

            Its not like they just sit around not being paid waiting for crime to happen.

          2. Dr.Flay

            Agreed, I believe the most important aspect of this (seeing as there will be no conviction) is that £886,210 pocket money or whatever they have spent it on, needs some explaining.

            Nothing to show so where is the money and what have they bought with it ?

            Equipment ? Staff ? Lots of paperclips ?

            They must keep accounts of some sort.

        2. Trollslayer

          Was the footage aired?

        3. Intractable Potsherd

          "It is on airport CCTV." Citation needed.

      3. Teiwaz


        300 years ago it would have been witches on brooms.

        Which would have been easier to spot due to the larger size (and the cackling).

        1. Ken Shabby

          Re: Hysteria

          I didn't know newts could talk, or did you get better?

          1. Muscleguy

            Re: Hysteria

            Talking is how you know your prince is the frog or newt in question. When a frog talks to you it is safe to assume something is going on (assuming you have not been indulging in mind altering substances, no ergot in your groats, mental illness, low blood sugar etc).

            1. teknopaul

              Re: Hysteria

              If you kiss the right frog (or lick its back) its pretty much guaranteed to start talking.

      4. Jove Bronze badge

        ... and yet the BBC published footage of what appeared to be a drone.

  9. batfink

    No no no

    The investigation needs to continue until we decide whether the imaginary drones were Russian, Nork or Iranian imaginary drones.

    Or whoever is The Great Enemy this week. I'm starting to lose track.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No no no

      Greenland, do keep up.

      1. Mark 85

        Re: No no no

        Greenland isn't a problem. Trump will buy it because "security", etc.

        1. Muscleguy

          Re: No no no

          Except the Greenlanders whose governance arrangements put the lie to the claim that Scottish devolution is the strongest, bestest in the world have said their country is not for sale. The Danes whose Crown has defence and foreign affairs responsibility for Greenland have said it is not for sale.

          The Idiot Trump might be ignorant, it doesn't mean everyone else is. The Louisiana Purchase and Alaska were all a long time ago as well. The world is different now, except Andorra.

        2. Tom 7

          Re: No no no

          I thought he wanted to buy it so he could close down the weather stations and exploit all the mineral wealth being exposed by then non-existent global warming,

  10. flobadober

    Tory Fuckwits

    I thought Liz Truss was going to implement 'barking dogs' to scare away the drones! :D :D :D

  11. sal II

    Drone control around airports

    I don't understand, why the airports don't employ the same tactic they used to control birds flying around the airport - Having a bunch of guys with shotguns paroling. I know that nowadays it's all humane noise machines, netting etc.

    Or just have a couple of drones and go ram the intruder after a dog fight

    1. MrReal

      Re: Drone control around airports

      No one ever saw this drone/drones so it's tricky to shoot at.

      1. Adrian 4

        Re: Drone control around airports

        obligatory xkcd

    2. Tom Paine

      Re: Drone control around airports

      We covered all that "Why don't they just..." stuff back at the time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Drone control around airports

        I don't remember anyone suggesting a Moat. It's foolproof as drones are never completely waterproof.

    3. Airportworker

      Re: Drone control around airports

      There are airfield safety workers with shotguns for bird control. Police rifles - long range ammo never a good idea to be fired into the air.

      Try to shoot a house fly with a water pistol and come back and tell us how easy it is.

      1. Muscleguy

        Re: Drone control around airports

        I get quite good results with the end of a flicked t-towel on flies. And yes, if successful the t-towel in question is put out to wash. Don't get many up here in Dundee anyway. If amenable I'm happy to open a window and encourage them out instead of getting lethal. Wasps, bees and butterflies get ushered out or captured in dry glasses and released outside.

        I'm constantly impressed by the deliberate and straight flight paths the bumblebees take. The ones with white bums, orange bums or red bums all behave the same. They fly over the back fence, go around all the herb flowers then fly up and over the garage roof towards next door without bothering to patrol the empty space beyond the herb garden so they have memories as well.

        I deliberately grow and let flower lots of plants with lots of small flowers for the bees, solitary fies butterflies etc. I'm lethal towards queen wasps trying to build nests in the shed but otherwise leave wasps alone. I find them very handsome animals.

  12. pmb00cs

    What Really happend

    Passenger 1: Is that a drone?

    Passenger 2: Don't be daft,it's a gull.


    bystander 1: did they see a drone?

    bystander 2: well they said drone.

    bystander 3: what about a drone?

    bystander 4: did someone see a drone?


    bystander 96: drone you say?

    and so

    guard 1: there's lots of talk of a drone going on over there, what do you think we should do?

    guard 2: report a drone sighting, the brass will deal with it!

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: What Really happend

      Oh, do please stop droning on!

      Icon: Did someone spot Paris?

  13. Tom Paine

    Bit unfair

    It strikes me as a bit unfair to call the local Dibble "bungling" when we don't yet know the perps or their MO. It's conceivable (to me, anyway, though admittedly it's a *tad* James Bond[1]) that it was a nation state backed group doing a test run to see whether long-term DoS attacks on airports with drones was a practical proposition. IF that was the case, you'd expect them to be using nation-state level

    [1] As I understand it there's circumstantial evidence that's not inconsistent with the nation-state hypothesis. A protest group -- "eco-terrorists" if you will, ie if you're a Daily Telegraph reader -- would certainly have released some sort of publicity or claim of responsibiity. Mindless kids "having a laugh" would have been caught pretty quickly in the obvious ways. And so on and so forth

    1. batfink

      Re: Bit unfair

      It's "conceivable" yes, but if you were going to run a DOS attack, surely you would do it when it wasn't dark and raining? If nobody we even see your drone, that would obviate the whole point of the DOS.

      Even if a plane was damaged somehow, the investigation would take so long that again your DOS objective wouldn't work.

      Agreed on the "bungling" though. It's a bit harsh. The plod were called, they did what they could, given the contradictory reports, and unsurprisingly didn't find anything. Then, given the days of interruption at the airport, they would've been forced to continue looking for perps/someone to blame. If (as people like me suspect) there were no perps, then no matter how competent/incompetent the plod are, they're not going to find any.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bit unfair

        "If (as people like me suspect) there were no perps, then no matter how competent/incompetent the plod are, they're not going to find any."

        Nonsense! The mere fact that no crime was committed won't stop the police from finding the perp. In this case, however, they've already done that once (using a standard police practice known as "panic, ignore evidence, arrest, and rely on slander, outrage, and fear to badger the innocent into a confession") and it didn't go over too well. The next standard police tactic is to round up the usual suspects and see if they can trick one of them into saying something incriminating, or at least make some kind of circumstantial case that a bad lawyer won't be able to beat, or an incompetent judge won't see through. Considering how much time and money have been spent, it would seem that's not worked either. The total lack of any evidence is tough to get around, so the next stop is probably fabrication. After that they'll cycle back through the suspect list, arrest one of them based on the fabricated evidence, then lay a number of "related" (not really) charges. When it becomes obvious it can't be proved, they drop the main charge and declare victory when he cops to some trivial charge they knew they could prove, while muttering that if only suspects didn't have so many rights they could have gotten him for all of it. They call this "good police work".

    2. Alister

      Re: Bit unfair

      when we don't yet know the perps or their MO

      We don't yet know if there were any perps at all, as there is no compelling evidence that any drones existed.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bit unfair

      It strikes you as a bit unfair to call the police bungling?

      The article notes that their response was to arrest the nearest man who liked to fly drones, even though he had been at work at the time (and the actual police work later put in found several witnesses prepared to vouch in court that he was at work, away from the scene, and couldn't possibly have been involved).

      The article further notes that the Chief Constable refused to apologise for this wrongful arrest, and suggested that the (innocent, wrongly arrested) couple should have been grateful not to have been hung out on bail for several years, under suspicion for a crime they could not have been involved with.

      You read that, and still feel it's unfair to call the police "bungling"?


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bit unfair

        But he was guilty until proven innocent - right?


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bit unfair

        "Bungling" would appear to be far too generous.

        "incompetent, arrogant, fascist pigs" might be more accurate.

        Quite how the Chief Constable can spout this kind of insulting, threatening crap about his force's harassment of an obviously innocent man and get away with it beggars belief. His behaviour is wildly inappropriate for a senior policeman and at the minimum should warrant an official and public chastisement and apology. Personally, I think he should lose his job.

        It would appear that the rules in Blighty these days are "Big Brother is always right, even when he is wrong and anyone who dares question this is obviously a terrorist/child molester/subversive (delete as appropriate to fit Big Brother's fear icon of the day)."

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Bit unfair

      Much better to run a DoS attack without drones.

      Holograms, for instance.

      Mid December, season of peak humbuggery, lots of silly lights including low-power gimmicky lasers. Could easily have been an accidental hologram started it all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bit unfair

        "Holograms, for instance."

        You don't need holograms, just a couple of burner phones. Or gullible (standard) bystanders, who will repeat what you tell them.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They did exist

    And there is CCTV. And eyewitness accounts. But it's quite hard to get footage of a drone at night! Pilots, airfield safety workers, police officers all spotted the drones.

    It's really funny how everyone assumes there were no drones and everyone involved is an idiot.

    1. joeW

      Re: They did exist

      Do you have a link to the CCTV footage?

    2. genghis_uk
      Black Helicopters

      Re: They did exist

      There was definitely a drone but it was being flown by the police.

      The question is whether there was a real drone being flown by outsiders or if the police drone is the one seen by eyewitness accounts etc.

      It would be ironic if the initial report was false and the police search drone was responsible for closing the airport! Even more so if the police spend a small fortune investigating only to find out it was themselves wot dunnit. I doubt that we would ever get to hear of that if it is really the case.

      (nearest we have for drones)

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: They did exist

      Assume, for a moment that there *was* a drone in the approach path to one of the runways.

      What do you think would be the effect of the wake turbulence from even a small commercial airliner on a drone?

      I'll tell you. The drone would be thrown around like a cat in a clothes dryer and would probably end up on the ground.

      And though pilots continue to report the odd near miss or potential collision with a drone, inspections of the aircraft reveal only minimal damage, similar to that of a bird strike.

      That is not to say we shouldnt discourage, as strongly as possible, drone use near airports. But after spending 900k, maybe its just time to move on.

    4. batfink

      Re: They did exist

      "Spotted the drones"? Really? What exactly did they "Spot"? At night, in the rain? At what distance? Anywhere around an airport is likely to be hundreds of metres from an observer.

      So, what you're actually saying is that they saw some flashing lights in the distance.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    fiasco costs or probe fiasco costs?

    perhaps they should launch a probe into fiasco probe to find the original fiasco?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's surprising the technique hasn't been used in Hong Kong yet.

    Or China for that matter.

  17. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    The most interesting thing about this is that it has shown those inclined that you don't actually have to fly a drone to shut down an airport. But a few burner phones, ring in with a few different reports, leak it to the press and the cops will widdle themselves and shut down the airport for you. If you're really lucky they will publicly describe your claims as "credible and true".

  18. G R Goslin

    What is for certain....

    ... is that the lunatic green fraternity will be using the real thing, at the earliest opportunity. And that the authorities will flail about in the usual headless chicken routine.

  19. ibmalone


    I'll confess to being puzzled as to why every Register story on this puts "London" in quotes. For a long time living in zone 2 Gatwick was the easiest airport for me to get to, and it's still my second choice.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: "London"

      Mainly because Gatwick Airport isn't in London.

      Neither, in case this helps, are Heathrow, Luton or Stansted.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "London"

        Nor is Southend. In fact, of the 6 airports which serve Greater London, the only one that's even close to London proper is City, and that's what, 6-7 miles East?

      2. Tromos

        Re: "London"

        And there was me thinking that Heathrow was in the LONDON borough of Hillingdon.

      3. ibmalone

        Re: "London"

        This is my point, bar City they all take similar time (1 hour) to get to from central London by public transport links. Putting the city name in quotes is usually used to indicate a Ryanair-only barn with three flights a day and where the only way to get to the named city is a 2 hour airline coach.

        1. Jove Bronze badge

          Re: "London"

          I live in London, yet it takes me more than an hour to commute into town.

          The seven airports are described as London because that is the principle market they serve.

          1. ibmalone

            Re: "London"

            That's what I'm getting at, why the quotes in, 'So far police in Sussex, where the "London" airport is situated.'?

            1. Jove Bronze badge

              Re: "London"

              why the quotes in, 'So far police in Sussex, where the "London" airport is situated.'


  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe they suspect Assange was behind it.

    After all, there's an unlimited budget for convicting him.

    Of any anything.

    Facts be damned.

  21. SonofRojBlake

    Here's the depressing thing

    Let's say there were no drones. If there weren't, this goes beyond incompetence. We've demonstrated as clearly as possible that you can close down a major airport for days with no risk to your own life or liberty and using less than a grand's worth of gear, the sort of gear you can buy innocuously from any hobby shop or off t'internet. If terrorists weren't aware of that before, they are now.

    My plan for shutting down Heathrow: buy/build three or four drones - as many as you can afford. Not off-the-shelf geofenced models - Arduino DIY jobs, decent sized, well lit. Program each one to lift off, fly a couple of miles at top speed, then loiter at about 200 feet for five minutes, then fly to the nearest large body of water and ditch themselves. You can test this behaviour anywhere, to your heart's content, until you get it working just right, because unlike, say, a bomb, testing a drone doesn't look suspicious or draw the attention of plod (obviously when testing, ditch into a nice field, not a pond). So you get the "fly,loiter, escape, ditch" behaviour right... drive past the perimeter of the airport in a van. You don't even need to get that close - a couple of miles is fine, a drone can cover that in two minutes or less. Open the roof, launch a drone, drive off. Wait a few hours until the airport is on high alert and flights have stopped. Drive to somewhere else, launch a drone, drive off. Now the authorities know there definitely IS a drone, and it's not mass hysteria. They spend much of their resources trying to track where the control signal is coming from and looking for the pilot - fruitlessly, because it's entirely autonomous. Rinse and repeat every day or two at unpredictable intervals until you run out of drones, and then just go home to Poland or wherever you bought the parts from (you didn't get them sent to a UK address, obvs). Chances of you ever being connected with the event: zero. The only possible way to get a witness is if someone see the drone exit your van and connects that with what happens subsequently. Don't launch where there are witnesses - you only need a few seconds.

    Cost to the drone builder :less than ten grand. Cost to the police to investigate: not less than a million. Cost to Heathrow and the travel industry generally: not less than a hundred million.

    The problem with this kind of attack is there's no way to stop it that doesn't interfere with the airport's ability to function. Any terrorist cell that can afford an AK47 or a trip to Pakistan or Utah "to train" can afford a drone, and a drone attack is much, much safer and has a higher chance of doing actual economic damage. You can't interfere with the command and control because it's all on board, you can't catch the pilot because there isn't one. You could conceivably try to shoot one down, but they're cheap enough that you can just keep throwing them up there - how long can you keep playing whack-a-drone?

    Demonstrating that this is a viable plan is, IMO, the worst thing the police have done here.

    1. Adrian 4

      Re: Here's the depressing thing

      Another plan :

      Uncontrolled access to devices that are affordable and can go pretty much anywhere is a security wonks' worse nightmare. Something has to be done. Maybe flight plans, registration, markings, id beacons, whatever. Don't stop until there's no fun left in it and they're all gone except police ones, and terrrrism suspects you can shoot on sight.

      Before :

      Police over-reaction ! harmless hobbyists ! nanny state !

      After :

      Shit ! I missed my holiday ! They shut that airport down ! Throw the book at them !

  22. Milton

    1 Drone x N Witnesses = N Drones?

    'At the time, local MP Henry Smith described the force's spending as "shocking".'

    Ah, Little Henry, contributing absolutely nothing useful to the world as usual. He really is an oxygen thief of the worst kind.

    With only reports of the incident to go by, IMHO there may have been something in the air that kicked off a frenzy of speculation and the usual bandwagon-jumping by people who are routinely terrible witnesses, leading to massive pressure on a police force to 'solve' a crime that was quite likely 99% non-existent. Did some thoughtless kid get to play with an early Xmas gift and let it be seen near the airport? Just once? That may have been all it took to start this entire fiasco running like a snowball going downhill.

    The police may have handled things badly, but consider the difficulty they were in: possibly no crime at all, but hundreds of 'witnesses' plus the enormous consequences of this occurring in a highly sensitive safety-first operation.

    Police officers' time has to be paid for. As a member of the party that slashed police resources savagely, Little Henry has nothing to offer except soundbites of easy blame—typical political bullshit, criticising those who do what he could not.

    As for terrorism and the mention elsewhere of man-portable missiles etc: everyone who understands the subject knows that a single terrorist with discipline, modest resources, and an adequate working knowledge of chemistry and electronics could cause absolute mayhem in any part of the country he chooses. A basic fertiliser bomb with a carefully focused... —well, you wouldn't expect me to say more.

    It is fortunate that those kind of people rarely become terrorists. Perhaps the fact that only an intellectual cripple would contemplate murdering dozens of innocent civilians is the single best thing about wannabe terrorists: for the most part, they're too fucked up and unhinged to be effective. (And before anyone says "9/11", let me point out that those Saudi Arabians had a technology level of "box-cutter").

    Let's hope that terrorists remain lazy, fatalistic, ignorant, stupid and careless.

    My perfect suicide bomber detonates alone in the desert during drills.

  23. SonofRojBlake

    " those Saudi Arabians had a technology level of "box-cutter""

    At least four of them had a technology level of "trained pilot capable of flying a loaded passenger jet into a very small target at the first try". Add to that the organisation required to be set up to do so four times in a matter of minutes, and your attempt to portray them as primitive bunglers looks less accurate.

    "Boxcutter" even stands as an indicator of their intelligence, because they didn't bother taking more than the very bare minimum of what they needed through security before changing the entire world.

    "Four Lions" wasn't a documentary, is what I'm saying.

    1. batfink

      They didn't take anything through security - (allegedly) the box-cutters were planted by ground staff.

      Which makes the current security circus at airports even more ridiculous.

  24. Jove Bronze badge

    UK or NATO Partner exercise ...

    ... such exercises have been reported to take place to test aspects of security around specific installations and sites of significance; could it not have been such an exercise?

  25. Jove Bronze badge

    FUD ...

    ... lots a of posts spreading this - dismissing that there was a drone. Suggests an exercise by the culprits to cover their tracks.

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