Court fines reporter for drone flights over Paris

Illustration of a drone flying over Paris on Feb 27, 2015. A French court on Tuesday fined a British journalist €1,000 (S$1,500) for flying a drone over central Paris and confiscated the machine, as authorities scramble to explain a recent ser
Illustration of a drone flying over Paris on Feb 27, 2015. A French court on Tuesday fined a British journalist €1,000 (S$1,500) for flying a drone over central Paris and confiscated the machine, as authorities scramble to explain a recent series of mysterious overflights. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - A French court on Tuesday fined a British journalist €1,000 (S$1,500) for flying a drone over central Paris and confiscated the machine, as authorities scramble to explain a recent series of mysterious overflights.

Tristan Redman, 34, from the Qatar-based network Al-Jazeera, was arrested last month in the Bois de Boulogne park on the western edge of the French capital along with two other journalists.

The two others were released and Redman pleaded guilty to flying a drone over the capital, which is illegal under French law.

Their arrest followed two nights of unexplained drone sightings over the French capital, although a source with knowledge of the case said the journalists were not involved in the earlier incidents.

Those mysterious sightings were made near the US embassy, not far from the Invalides military museum, the Eiffel Tower and several major thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital, police said.

Redman declined to comment after the verdict but his lawyer, Francis Szpiner, said the punishment was "disproportionate, even if people are on edge in the current context".

"These were just journalists who wanted to do their job," added the lawyer.

France was put on high alert after jihadist attacks in and around the French capital in January left 17 people dead.

Redman received the drone from the station's London bureau in November and was compiling a package on drone flights with the help of two freelancers, one British and one Belgian.

"Our staff in Paris were attempting to illustrate a piece to camera on domestic drones which are widely available, while also attempting to cover the recent drone mysteries in Paris and wider security concerns in France," Al-Jazeera said in a statement at the time of the arrests.

Police have been unable to catch any of the operators of the night-time flights and it is unclear whether they were the work of pranksters, tourists or something more malicious.

French authorities were first alerted to mystery drone flyovers in October, when state-run power company EDF filed a complaint with police after detecting the small aerial vehicles zipping over seven atomic plants across the country.

The sightings continued into November, and altogether some 20 flyovers took place over nuclear plants. Their operators were never found.

Then on Jan 20, a pilotless aircraft briefly flew over the presidential palace in Paris, shortly after the jihadist killings.

And in late January, small drones were also spotted near a bay in Brittany that houses four nuclear submarines - one of the most protected sites in the country.