Two drones found near Gatwick Airport have been ruled out as responsible for pre-Christmas travel chaos as Sussex Police say they are continuing throw “all available resources” at the investigation.
Sussex Police Chief Constable Giles York issued a statement Saturday emphasizing the push to identify and bring to justice those involved in the illegal drone activity and calling for more information from the public.
The airport was shut down over three days and the travel plans of 140,000 people were disrupted after reports of illegal drones.
Saturday’s statement, issued after York had early admitted some sightings could have been of police drones, said it was established that the incident, which led to widespread travel disruption, was caused “by numerous instances of illegal drone activity”.
This was not a police drone, it said.
However, the police confirmed that two drones recovered from an intensive search of the area had now been ruled out of the inquiry.
They said they were currently examining relevant sightings by 115 witnesses – 93 from credible witnesses, people used to working in the busy airport environment, including a pilot, airport staff and police officers.
This included further information generated as a result of a public appeal for information and more than 1,000 house-to-house inquiries.
“Public safety remains a priority and what we are dealing with is both unprecedented and challenging,’’ York said.
“There will be information relevant to this enquiry within the community and, with a £50,000 reward on offer for information from Gatwick Airport Limited, it is vital that people come forward so we can bring to justice the person responsible for this criminal act.”
The Chief Constable had earlier told the BBC some of the sightings could have been police drones investigating the incident but added that he was “absolutely certain that there was a drone flying throughout the period that the airport was closed.”
York said a Sussex officer who suggested last week that police were not sure whether there was a drone flying at Gatwick at all was simply trying to explain the investigative approach taken by the force.
He also defended the move to arrest a middle-aged couple who were held for questioning for 36 hours before being released without charge.
Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk said they felt “violated” after their home was searched and their identities exposed.
“I’m really sorry for what [Gait] has experienced and the feeling of violation around it,” the BBC quoted York as saying.
“[But] what might have been worse as an experience for him would have been to be released under investigation still.
“We were able to exhaust all our lines of inquiry on that first instance and were able to release him from police custody saying he was no longer a suspect.”