Protesters using drones to disrupt flights could face life sentences, Brighton’s former neighbourhood police chief said yesterday (Friday 14 June).
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor – who left Sussex Police for one of the most senior roles in the Metropolitan Police last year – issued the warning to “Extinction Rebellion” protesters.
He said: “We are aware of Extinction Rebellion’s intention to stage a protest at Heathrow Airport on Tuesday 18 June.
“An appropriate policing plan involving specialist officers from across the Met is in place.
“This plan covers the unique challenges that come with a protest being held at an airport.
“We are determined to play our part in keeping the airspace over London’s airports safe for the thousands of planes flying in and out every week.
“There is speculation that protesters will use drones in order to disrupt business at Heathrow.
“I want to be absolutely clear that anyone caught illegally using a drone can expect to be dealt with in line with the law.
“If flown into the path of an aircraft, a drone has the potential to cause great harm to those on board.
“Affecting the safety of aircraft passengers is very different to blocking roads around London and, should this happen, the consequences will reflect the severity of the offence.
“Endangering the safety of an aircraft can result in a life sentence.
“As we have seen, the illegal use of drones at airports also has the capability to cause great disruption to the public, not only in London, but internationally.
“The airport is part of our national infrastructure and we will not allow the illegal activity of protestors to cause disruption and misery to thousands.
“We will be deploying resources – both in terms of officers and equipment – to monitor the airspace around Heathrow and quickly detect and disrupt any illegal drone activity.
“While it is our duty to deliver an appropriate plan for this protest, I want to make clear the impact this kind of activity has on frontline policing.
“This has the potential to cause widespread disruption and in order to prevent this happening we have drawn vital police resources from across the capital.
“We would urge anybody intending to join this event with a view to committing criminal activity, whether considered peaceful or not, to strongly reconsider.
“Protests of this nature can cause significant disruption to people but I want to reassure the public that we have a very experienced command team in place for this operation.
“We will work hard to keep you as informed as possible throughout.”
Last December flights to and from Gatwick airport were disrupted over three days as a result of more than 100 drone sightings being reported. Many of these were believed to be a drone or drones owned by Sussex Police.