A couple arrested over the drone disruption at Gatwick Airport and later released without charge have told Sky News they feel “completely violated”.
In an emotional statement outside their home in Crawley, West Sussex, Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk said: “Our home has been searched and our privacy and identity completely exposed.
“Our names, photos and other personal information have been broadcast throughout the world.
“We are deeply distressed, as are our family and friends, and we are currently receiving medical care.
“The way we were initially perceived was disgusting, although those who knew us didn’t doubt us for a second.”
The pair were released following two nights in custody and say they will now be trying to get through Christmas “as best we can”.
Around 1,000 flights were cancelled or diverted after drones were spotted inside the perimeter of the airport on Wednesday, with the disruption spanning three days and affecting around 140,000 passengers.
In an attempt to catch those responsible, Gatwick Airport has offered a £50,000 reward through Crimestoppers, while another £10,000 has been put up by the charity’s chairman Lord Ashcroft.
Gatwick – Britain’s second busiest airport – serves more than 43 million passengers a year.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the airport said its runway remains open and a full schedule of flights has operated across the weekend and on Monday.
As the fallout from the chaos continues, Sky News understands ministers have labelled the police handling of communications surrounding the drone sightings as a “mess-up”.
After an hour-long conference call on Monday chaired by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, it was acknowledged police “have not handled their communication response well”.
Sunday’s claim by police that there was a “possibility” that there might never have been a drone was described as a “mess-up”.
On Monday afternoon, police appeared to backtrack completely over that statement.
Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said: “We can unequivocally state that there have been numerous illegal drone sightings at the airport over three days from 19 to 21 December.
“There were numerous reports clustered around 37 occasions where a drone or drones were seen and I am keen for those responsible to be brought to justice.
“The impact of this criminal and reckless behaviour has been enormous and we are determined to locate those responsible to bring them to justice.”
There have been more than 200 sightings since the first drone was spotted in the area surrounding the airport on Wednesday.
Police have taken 67 statements, including from police officers and staff at the airport.
A damaged drone found near the airport perimeter, close to the last reported sighting, is also being forensically examined.
The airport said: “We are clear that there were multiple confirmed sightings of drone activity at the airport.
“Therefore we took the necessary actions to ensure the safety of passengers using our airport.
“Safety will always be our number one priority.
“We continue to support the police with their investigations into this illegal and deliberate act to disrupt Gatwick Airport’s operations.”