Gatwick drone case: Arrested couple freed without charge

Stranded passengers at Gatwick Airport during the airport runway's closure last week over the disruption caused by drones. The chaos affected more than 140,000 passengers in Britain and reverberated around the world. A man and a woman (below) were in
Stranded passengers at Gatwick Airport during the airport runway's closure last week over the disruption caused by drones. The chaos affected more than 140,000 passengers in Britain and reverberated around the world.PHOTO: REUTERS
Stranded passengers at Gatwick Airport during the airport runway's closure last week over the disruption caused by drones. The chaos affected more than 140,000 passengers in Britain and reverberated around the world. A man and a woman (below) were in
A man and a woman were initially arrested over the case, but have since been released without charge.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • A couple in Britain who were detained in connection with the illegal use of drones that sowed three days of chaos at Gatwick Airport have been released without charge.

Police have also recovered a damaged drone near the second-busiest airport in the country that was now being examined forensically.

Gatwick Airport also announced that it was offering a £50,000 (S$87,000) reward for information leading to "the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the criminal act that disrup-ted flights".

Sussex police had earlier arrested a 47-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman on suspicion of disrupting civil aviation services and endangering people or operations.

They are both from Crawley, a town just south of the airport, and the man's Facebook page suggested that he was a drone hobbyist.

But on Sunday, Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley of the Sussex police said in a statement: "Both people have fully cooperated with our inquiries, and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick."

The first drone sighting was reported around 9pm last Wednesday (5am last Thursday, Singapore time), forcing officials to shut down the airport's one runway in West Sussex, south of London, and ground or divert more than 1,000 flights over three days.

CLEARED OF SUSPICION

Both people have fully cooperated with our inquiries, and I am satisfied that they are no longer suspects in the drone incidents at Gatwick.

'' DETECTIVE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT JASON TINGLEY, of the Sussex police.

The runway was buzzed by drones more than 40 times within 48 hours.

The chaos affected more than 140,000 passengers in Britain and reverberated around the world.

The couple were arrested last Friday night. In a phone interview on Sunday, Supt Tingley said that they had been held for approximately 35 hours for questioning because police "needed to be really sure what we were dealing with".

Sussex police have declined to officially name the couple, and the chief said the police had offered them full support after they were released.

Supt Tingley said the damaged drone was found last Saturday morning near the perimeter fencing of Gatwick, in the small town of Horley, by a member of the public who alerted police.

He said an examination by a forensic science team was being "prioritised and fast-tracked".

Investigators are looking for two things, he said: Digital data on the drone and human DNA.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2018, with the headline 'Gatwick drone case: Arrested couple freed without charge'. Print Edition | Subscribe