Belfast Telegraph

Complaints of drone activity soar by 30% in one year, say police in Northern Ireland

By Mark Bain

The PSNI has dealt with a 30% rise in the number of complaints about drones over the past year.

Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show the number of incidents reported has risen from 197 in 2016 to a new high of 258 in 2017 - the third highest increase of any police force in the UK.

Of the 37 UK police forces which responded to freedom of information requests, only three - Sussex (346), Greater Manchester (274) and Merseyside (269) - recorded more complaints over the remote control aircraft.

Most of the complaints concerned issues of privacy, with homeowners concerned over privacy invasion and potential damage to property - though drones flying low over schools where children were playing was another prominent issue.

Detective Inspector Stephen Brown said: "There are strict safety rules for drone users, which are underpinned by UK law.

"Current regulations by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) require drones to be kept in line of sight and flown no higher than 12m. They must be at least 50m from buildings, vehicles, people or over large crowds, and stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields.

"As the number of incidents involving recreational drones has significantly increased in the last couple of years, PSNI is working with partner agencies to promote public awareness."

Dr Alan McKenna from the University of Kent has been conducting research into the dramatic rise in the use of drones.

He said: "Across the 37 police forces who responded to freedom of information requests on the number of calls they had received from the public concerning drones, a total of 4,543 calls were logged in 2017, up from 3,449 calls logged by the same forces in 2016. This is an overall 32% increase in calls."

Dr McKenna said the largest single category of complaints related to drones flying over residential and public property.

"Within this type of call, some concerned possible privacy violations, others were noise concerns, whilst others were concerned with drones being used for criminal purposes," he said.

"Other categories of calls included the theft of drones; drones being flown near schools or in the vicinity of children; and by professional drone flyers who were advising the police of the particular locations they were flying in. The government have been very concerned with the use of drones for flying contraband into prisons, and some of the calls related to this problem.

"The level of drone related calls made to the police in 2017 is certain to reinforce the government's belief in the need for additional regulation, and this will indeed be arriving very shortly with a new Bill being introduced in Parliament addressing drone use."

Belfast Telegraph

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