The disruption caused by a drone at Gatwick airport last year may have been an “inside job”, according to police.
Sussex Police told BBC Panorama that an insider may have been responsible for the attack, which grounded more than 100,000 passengers just before Christmas. The possibility of an inside job, police said, was treated as a “credible line of enquiry from the earliest stages of the police response.”
Comments from the police force were echoed by Gatwick’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, who suggested that the person(s) responsible would likely have been familiar with the airport’s operations and security procedures.
Additionally, the perpetrator may have been monitoring runway activity or infiltrated the airport’s communications network.
“It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport,” Woodroofe said.
Woodroofe also suggested that whoever was responsible for the attack had deliberately used a device which could not be picked up by the DJI Aeroscope drone detection system – which the airport was testing at the time.
Read more: Gatwick Drones Cause Christmas Commute Chaos
Culprit Still at Large
A lengthy investigation has yet to reveal the culprit(s) responsible for the Gatwick drone attack. Last year’s operation saw officers and resources from five other police forces brought in to assist with the investigation, and a reward of £50,000 has also been offered.
Sussex Police are still investigating the incident, which is expected to take several more months to complete.
Speaking to Panorama, Woodroofe described the situation as a “malicious” criminal incident and denied that the airport overreacted in its response.
“There is absolutely nothing that I would do differently when I look back at the incident, because ultimately, my number one priority has to be to maintain the safety of our passengers, and that’s what we did,” he said.
“It was terrible that 140,000 people’s journeys were disrupted – but everyone was safe,” Woodroofe added.
Protocols at the airport mean that if a drone is present, the runway must be closed for safety reasons. The airport tried on a number of occasions, however, each time the drone reappeared; further fueling speculation that it could have been an “inside job”.
Since the incident, Gatwick has invested around £5 million on anti-drone equipment. Technology brought in by the airport includes two Anti UAV defence systems, known as ‘AUDS’.
Woodroofe insisted that the airport is now far better protected following the deployment of anti-drone technology.
“We would know the drone was arriving on site and we’d know where that drone had come from, where it was going to and we’d have a much better chance of catching the culprit,” he said.
Theories circulated on the internet suggest that a drone had never been present at the airport, which are ‘supported’ by claims that there are no verifiable pictures of the device.
A distinct lack of eyewitness testimony on the incident – and the drone in question – has led to the development of a number of theories.
Sussex Police refuted these claims and told the BBC that there had been 130 recorded ‘credible’ drone sightings by 115 people. These sightings were reported by police officers and security personnel at the airport, as well as air traffic control staff and pilots.
Woodroofe also dismissed these claims and insisted that reports had come from trusted members of staff, including pilots and air traffic control staff.
“Members of my team, people I have worked with for a decade, people who have worked for thirty years on the airfield, who fully understand the implications of reporting a drone sighting,” he said.
“They knew they’d seen a drone. I know they saw a drone. We appropriately closed the airport.”