Official figures show rise in cases, with incidents including drones being used for sexual offences and ferrying drugs into prisons
A UFO hovering outside the 72nd floor of London’s Shard skyscraper and a flying camera hurtling through the skies over Hyde Park are just two of the rising number of “drone-related incidents” reported to police forces across the UK.
Figures provided to the Guardian following a freedom of information request show a significant increase in the number of cases where members of the public have reported nuisance drone flying to their local force. Thames Valley police recorded 21 incidents in 2014, rising to 80 this year. The Metropolitan police logged 21 cases in 2015, up from one the previous year.
The incidents logged by Scotland Yard in the past 24 months range from concerns about the piloting of drones over packed crowds at a Christmas event in Hyde Park to the devices being used to ferry drugs into prison or to commit sexual offences.
The most recent drone case to come to court involved a film-maker who was fined £1,125 last week for illegally flying his drone over Hyde Park without permission during a shoot for a promotional video.
Elsewhere, at least one person took the law into their own hands when confronted with a drone. Details of an incident logged by Lincolnshire police said: “Caller states there was a remote-control drone over his garden. He has shot at it with his rifle.”
Dr Alan McKenna, of the University of Kent, said complaints “include concerns about privacy, harassment, general calls about drones flying over the neighbourhood”. He added: “But there have been examples of people resorting to physical violence because they are so annoyed, which I think is quite telling.”
Among other large forces, Greater Manchester police (GMP) provided details of 58 incidents since early last year. Notes taken by call handlers included a report of an “intrusive drone”. It added: “Believe the occupant of house nearby is sending a radio-controlled drone over address where INFT [informant] is sunbathing. Believe is taking photos. Been over three times now.”
Another GMP log was titled “Drone causing trouble” and said: “Someone is flying this drone over this junction. Looks like a giant spider and everyone is looking at it and not where they are going.” The log also stated that two men flying a drone over Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium were detained in November last year.
West Yorkshire police’s log included an incident from July in which a caller expressed concern about a drone that had been “hanging around” for a few months. The caller reported it after it appeared to follow them home and hovered outside their bedroom window. The entry added that the caller “states that a few of the neighbours have seen it also. It is freaking people out and invading people’s privacy”.
Drone-related incidents logged by Merseyside police included one in which an air crew reported a drone at 365 metres (1,200ft) above Liverpool city centre. Others echoed suspicions elsewhere about the use of camera drones near children. One log entry recorded: “Drone over Funland playground – adult challenged”. Another noted: “Suspicious circumstances. Drone near children’s play area.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s log included an example of one caller who reported that a drone had been flown over his house by neighbours with whom he had been in a six-year boundary dispute.
Another concerned a woman whose daughter had used a cash machine and said a man appeared to be using a drone with a camera attached to hover above and record people as they entered their pin numbers. The drone was said to have crashed.
Members of the public are barred from flying drones within 150 metres of a congested area and within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or structure not under their control.
McKenna, who is researching legal issues arising from the increasing use of drones, said that a relative lack of awareness of the law governing their use was problematic.
He added: “I was talking, for example, to a farmer who was not best pleased at a drone going across his land and he felt that he could use a shotgun because he regarded it as akin to a dog attacking his livestock. That was an interesting perspective.
“Education is important, but it will only get us so far. If we cannot enforce the regulations that we have, then people will use self-help mechanisms. That is the nature of a human being unfortunately.
“The police and the Civil Aviation Authority are operating at a time of budget cutbacks. It’s going to be difficult for them. This is a new technology and the police are learning the ropes. Will their forces actually give them the resources to go and investigate drones that cannot be identified when they are clearly infringing air navigational rules?”
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