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Police drone used for first time in Belfast during Ardoyne alert

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

Published 05/11/2013

Unmanned Aerial System flew over the device for an aerial inspection, relaying images back to bomb disposal officers
Unmanned Aerial System flew over the device for an aerial inspection, relaying images back to bomb disposal officers

A drone aircraft has been used in a security operation for the first time in Northern Ireland policing since the G8 summit.

The PSNI confirmed last night that the technology was used to help keep the community, police and Army officers safe as a "small, viable device" was defused in Jamaica Street in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.

Known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), three of the small remote controlled aircraft were purchased by the PSNI at a cost of £1m ahead of last June's meeting of world leaders.

They were used to fly over the area around the summit venue to ensure the protection of the visiting dignitaries.

A number of homes had to be evacuated during yesterday's alert and the road closed when the suspect object was reported to police at around 2.30pm. Locals raised the alarm after seeing an object being thrown at two men in the street.

The drone aircraft, operated by a member of the PSNI Air Support Unit, flew over the device for an aerial inspection, relaying images back to bomb disposal officers before it was defused.

A PSNI spokesman said: "As part of the response and in order to keep the community, police and Army officers safe a limited aerial capability was required.

"These systems are flown in accordance with Civil Aviation Authority approval."

The device was taken away. Residents were allowed back into their homes and the road reopened around 8pm.

The drones are operated by trained security personnel within the line of sight of the craft.

Following this latest policing deployment, UAS may be used in both urban and rural environments for traffic management, searches for missing or wanted persons, public order situations and for evidence gathering.

However, there have been some concerns raised at the privacy issue for individuals over the use of the aircraft, particularly in relation to the retention and the disposal of images.

There have also been some unconfirmed sightings of the drones being used in the Belfast area before, including over the River Lagan recently.

After the decision to purchase three drones was made in April this year, Policing Board chair Brian Rea described the new equipment as "a valuable asset" to the PSNI in policing a range of situations.

A full review of the use of the drones will be carried out by the office of the Oversight Commissioner after a year of operation to assess their effectiveness.

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