A couple arrested when armed police stormed their home and held them for 36 hours over the Gatwick Airport drone chaos have received £200,000 in compensation and an apology.
Paul and Elaine Gait have settled their claims for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment against Sussex Police, their legal team announced today.
Drone sightings near the runways over a three-day period in December 2018 caused chaos, with the airport being repeatedly forced to close.
Travellers excited for Christmas-time getaways were horrified as flights were cancelled in droves as police investigated the sightings.
Paul and Elaine Gait have settled their claims for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment against Sussex Police
No-one has ever been charged over the incident and police have said that some reported drone sightings may have been Sussex Police’s own craft.
Mr and Mrs Gait were arrested when 12 armed police officers swooped on their home just before Christmas 2018.
They were then held in custody for 36 hours before being released without charge.
This was despite the fact they did not possess any drones and had been at work during the reported sightings.
Their legal team announced on Sunday that Sussex Police has agreed to an out-of-court settlement package of £200,000 in compensation and legal costs.
Mr and Mrs Gait, from Crawley, said in a statement: ‘We are delighted to have finally received vindication, it has been a very long fight for justice.
The couple arriving home on Sunday morning after spending 36 hours in police custody
‘The sums being paid by Sussex Police and letter received from the Assistant Chief Constable are confirmation of our innocence and wrongful treatment.
‘It has taken lengthy legal proceedings to obtain resolution from the police and to finally have closure on this distressing time. We look forward to moving on and putting this terrible episode behind us.’
They say despite the apology they still have ‘no explanation’ for why they were held ‘incommunicado’ for 36 hours.
At the time, Mr Gait said he and his wife were ‘deeply distressed’ their ‘names, photos and other personal information’ had been shared across the world.
They say despite the apology they still have ‘no explanation’ for why they were held ‘incommunicado’ for 36 hours
Mark Stephens, partner at Howard Kennedy, who has represented the couple since Boxing Day 2018, said: ‘It was plain as a pikestaff from day one that Mr and Ms Gait experienced a gross miscarriage of justice and I am delighted that this miscarriage has finally been marked by the police.’
In a letter to the couple shared by their legal team, Sussex Police Assistant Chief Constable David Miller said: ‘I am deeply sorry that you both experienced the unpleasantness of arrest and detention incommunicado for approximately 36 hours.
‘I acknowledge that this would have been a traumatic time for you both.
‘Unfortunately, when the police carry out their functions on behalf of the public, sometimes innocent people are arrested as part of necessary police investigations in the public interest.
‘I understand that you believe that you were unlawfully arrested and detained by Sussex Police Officers.
‘This is an issue which can only be resolved by a court.
‘However, we recognise that things could have been done differently and, as a result, Sussex Police have agreed to pay you compensation and legal costs.’
Mr Miller also confirmed the force commissioned a ‘thorough independent review’ of the drone incident.
Gatwick Airport offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to arrest after confirming around 1,000 aircraft were cancelled or diverted, affecting approximately 150,000 passengers.
There were 67 sighting reports from December 19 to 21 of a drone being operated illegally around the runway in an act police described as ‘deliberate’ to disrupt the airport.
Sussex police were criticised for arresting married couple on December 21 before releasing them without charge 36-hours later.
Mr Gait, who lives a mile from Gatwick, used to fly drones and model aircraft outside his house.
However his boss was able to confirm that he was at work – as part of a three man team fitting windows – during most of the drone sightings.
Sussex chief constable Giles York apologised to the couple in December 2018 and said that the drones spotted may have been owned by his own force.
He said that police drones had been flown at the time of the investigation to survey the area and look for drones being flown illegally.
Timeline: How dangerous drone pilot managed to shut down Gatwick
An expert drone pilot grounded hundreds of planes coming in and out of Gatwick by flying a drone at least 50 times
This is how the chaos unfolded:
9pm, December 19: Drone is first spotted by airport staff hovering near the runway causing flights to be grounded or diverted.
9.15pm: It appears again leading Gatwick bosses to believe it is a deliberate act.
9.30pm – midnight: The drone is seen at least five more times in that period
3.01am, December 20: Airport re-opens its runway after the all clear is given
3.45am: Drone is seen again and flights are again grounded
7am: Small unmanned aircraft appears again
9am: Another sighting of the drone as police start hunting perimeter of the airport
Midday: Police are unable find the drone pilot despite it appearing again at lunchtime with Gatwick saying all flights are grounded until at least 4pm
2pm: Airport admits it has ‘no idea’ when it will re-open as police struggle to find the pilot
3pm: The drone is spotted again as it buzzes across Gatwick’s runway. It was just minutes after airport bosses announced they had hoped to re-open at 4pm.
4pm: Drone spotted flying over the runway yet again.
5pm: Ministry of Defence confirms that it is using specialist equipment to seek out the drone
8pm: Gatwick tells passengers not to come to the airport on Friday as drone buzzes across terminals
8.30pm-9.30pm: Another sighting of the drone on Thursday evening
10pm: The last known sighting of the drone hours after Army is deployed
3am, Friday December 21: Airport bosses deem the airspace is clear
6am: Gatwick re-opens the runway
10.30am: Flights are taking off and landing as normal
5.10pm: The runway is closed again after another suspected sighting
10pm: Two suspects are arrested, Sussex Police announce
December 23: Sussex Police confirm two suspects arrested in conjunction with the widespread disruption of flights at Gatwick Airport through the illegal use of drones have been released without charge