A 42-year-old man from Nottingham has, today, Tuesday, 15 September, been convicted of illegally flying drones over buildings and congested areas, in what it believed to be the first police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) led successful prosecution of its kind in the UK.
Nigel Wilson, 42 (02.11.1972), of Rockingham Grove, Bingham, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to a total of seven offences contrary to sections 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009, having already pleaded guilty to two offences at a previous hearing on 7 May. He was sentenced to pay a fine of £1,800 and to pay £600 in costs. A Criminal Behaviour Order was also issued, with conditions that he is not allowed to purchase, own or fly any drones nor assist any other person in using drones for the next two years.
Wilson illegally flew his unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft over various football stadia across England and buildings in central London, where he either had no direct sight of the craft, flew the craft over congested areas, or where the craft was flying within 50 metres of the buildings – all offences under the Air Navigation Order, 2009.
He flew his drone illegally over Anfield stadium in September, 2014 during a Liverpool match against Ludogorets FC, filming footage which he later posted online via a YouTube account.
During this incident, he flew the drone close to mounted officers at the match, startling the horses on a busy walkway outside the stadium. Officers struggled to regain control as the horses reared and narrowly avoided hitting members of the public walking nearby.
Wilson went on to commit similar offences, flying his drones over the iPro Stadium in Derby, the Emirates Stadium in north London, and the Etihad Stadium in Manchester at various times between September and December 2014 – all during busy match days at the stadia.
He was initially arrested by officers from Greater Manchester Police on 18 October 2014, after they’d received reports of a drone flying over the Etihad Stadium.
He was bailed, whilst officers carried out further enquiries, and when he returned on bail in January 2015, he was further arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police, who had been carrying out a joint investigation into Wilson with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had also been contacted about his drone-flying activity.
In addition to flying drones over crowds and stadia at various football matches, officers also discovered that Wilson had been flying drones over or near various buildings in London, including the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, HMS Belfast and the Shard.
He was questioned by detectives and was released from custody, but later summoned to appear at court in May and pleaded guilty to two offences. He appeared again at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, 15 September, where he pleaded guilty to a further seven offences. No evidence was offered in relation to eight other charges.
Chief Inspector Nick Aldworth, from the Met’s Specialist Operations Command, who is the Met’s lead officer on the misuse of drones, said:
“As drones become more widely available, it’s important that anyone using this type of small aircraft understands that there are strict regulations on how and where they can be flown and that police, in partnership with the CAA, will look to prosecute anyone who does not follow these rules.
“Flying drones over congested areas or buildings can pose great risks to public safety and security and Wilson put many people in real danger. Today’s outcome should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of doing similar that they could end up in court if they ignore these regulations.”
A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
“As this case shows, anyone flying a drone needs to understand that there are safety rules in place which have to be followed. These rules are there to protect the safety of the general public and other airspace users. It is clearly not appropriate to fly a drone over large crowds of people or close to buildings and the CAA will continue working with the police to ensure these safety rules are upheld.”