A Drone Pilot Has Been Convicted For Flying Over Buckingham Palace And Football Stadiums
A drone enthusiast has been fined and banned from pursuing his hobby after he was convicted of flying remote control aircraft over and around Premier League football stadiums, parliament and Buckingham Palace.
Nigel Wilson, a security guard from Nottingham, posted videos to YouTube showing views from heights of at least 100 metres of Premier League, Champions League and Championship football matches. It is the first time a person has been prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service for using drones after a police-led operation.
Other videos showed views of Big Ben from close range, the Queen Victoria memorial next to Buckingham Palace, HMS Belfast at its mooring on the Thames and the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper, all accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack.
In one incident at Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, the 42-year-old flew a drone close to mounted police officers, who struggled to regain control after the aircraft startled their horses, Westminster magistrates court heard.
Prior to his arrest at a football match in Manchester last October he flew a drone over what appeared to be a train.
Fining him a total of £1,800 for nine offences, district judge Quentin Purdy told Wilson he showed “flagrant disregard” for people’s safety by flying his three drones over busy, built-up areas.
“At each and every one of these places an accident could have occurred simply by a gust of wind or something of that nature taking it out of your control,” the judge said.
“In each and every case you knew what you were doing. Several times you were warned by police, who seized drones from you, and on numerous occasions by people posting on your YouTube channel. It was the height of arrogance in terms of public safety.”
Wilson was also forced to forfeit his drone equipment and handed two crime prevention orders banning him from purchasing, borrowing or using for any purpose a drone or encouraging anyone else to do so. He must also pay £600 costs and a £20 surcharge.
Susan Bryant, defending, described her client as a “hobbyist”, adding: “It was something he put a great amount of time into in terms of improving his skill.”
Wilson had pleaded guilty to four charges of flying small unmanned surveillance aircraft over a congested area and five of not maintaining direct, unaided visual contact with a small unmanned surveillance aircraft. The prosecution offered no evidence for eight other charges.
The Air Navigation Order 2009 says drone operators must not fly them over or within 150 metres of any congested area, over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people, or within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the user’s control, unless they have obtained permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
It also says users must maintain direct visual contact with a drone throughout its flight path so they can avoid collisions with people and buildings.
Wilson was initially arrested by officers from Greater Manchester police on 18 October 2014, after reports of a drone flying over the Etihad stadium.
He was bailed while officers carried out further inquiries. When he returned on bail in January 2015, he was arrested again by officers from the Metropolitan police, after a joint investigation into Wilson with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had been contacted about his drone-flying activity in London.
Detectives questioned Wilson and released him, but he was later summoned to appear at court in May where he pleaded guilty to two offences. He pleaded guilty to a further seven offences in Westminster magistrates court on Tuesday.
Responding to the sentence, Ch Insp Nick Aldworth, the Metropolitan police’s lead officer on the misuse of drones, said: “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 CAA spokesman said: “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.”
In April last year, Robert Knowles, 46, of Barrow-in-Furness, became the first person convicted in the UK for “dangerously” flying a drone. He pleaded guilty to flying drones within 50 metres of a structure – the Jubilee bridge on the Walney channel – and flying over a nuclear installation, the BAE Systems submarine-testing facility. Magistrates fined him £800 and ordered to pay costs of £3,500.