Police chiefs have warned drone users they will face “serious consequences” if they use the gadgets to commit crimes – with the number of reported incidents rising by 40% over the past two years.
A Sky News investigation found forces across the UK received more than 2,400 reports of incidents involving drones in 2018 – including road traffic collisions, criminal damage and voyeurism.
There were also dozens of reports of drones being flown in the flight paths of airports between 2016 and 2018, risking a repeat of the major disruption seen at Heathrow and Gatwick in recent months.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it is now working with the government and the Civil Aviation Authority on future laws “to meet the challenges and risks posed by drones”.
In total, police forces said they received 2,435 reports of drone incidents in 2018 – up 2% on 2017 (2,377 incidents) and 42% higher than 2016 (1,709 incidents).
The actual number of drone incidents is likely to be much higher, as just 20 of the UK’s 45 police forces answered freedom of information requests from Sky News.
Gwent Police said a person had complained in 2018 that a drone was used to film them while they were naked. The force also received reports of a drone filming a cash machine, and another being flown over the M4.
Nottinghamshire Police said drones were linked to two harassment/stalking crimes in 2017 and 2018 and three hate incidents, while Kent Police received reports of a drone flying over the M20 and another falling on to a motorway.
Bedfordshire Police said it recorded 282 drone incidents between 2016 and 2018 – including 28 reports of drones being flown in an airport’s flight path and 21 reports of the devices being operated over schools or children’s nurseries.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recorded 301 drone incidents in 2018 – up from 258 in 2017 and 197 in 2016 – including nearly 30 reports of anti-social behaviour last year.
Leicestershire Police said drone incidents included reports of harassment, voyeurism, criminal damage, road users being endangered and a civil aviation incident, while Hertfordshire Police listed several road traffic collisions among its drone incidents.
Meanwhile, North Wales Police said it received a report of a drone being flown in the flight path of Hawarden airport and another being used to film people “tombstoning” off a cliff into water.
Among more minor incidents recorded, Cambridgeshire Police said it had received reports of drones being used to drop paintballs into people’s gardens, while Avon and Somerset Police said it received reports of damage after a drone fell on to a car.
Some forces provided details of every incident involving a drone they had recorded – including non-crimes – while others only provided details of crimes featuring the devices.
Details of the incidents come after it was announced that the “no-fly zone” for drones around UK airports is to be extended to 5km (three miles), with anyone violating the rules facing a prison sentence of up to five years.
Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, the NPCC’s lead for the criminal use of drones, said: “Those who choose to use drones for a criminal purpose should be in no doubt that they face serious consequences and police will use all available powers to investigate and prosecute them.
“Before anyone uses a drone it is vital they make themselves aware of their responsibilities and the rules to make sure these devices are operated in a safe way.
“We are currently working with government, the Civil Aviation Authority and others on future legislation to meet the challenges and risks posed by drones. At the same time all forces are working together to ensure consistency in the way these incidents are recorded and investigated.”