Last July, the UK handed out its first ever jail sentence to an individual using a quadcopter to smuggle contraband into prison. Now, the government has announced the formation of a new specialist squad to tackle the problem nationally.
The new squad will be formed of police and prison officers, and will primarily be an information-sharing exercise. (If you were imagining officers using drone-blocking guns or specially trained eagles to take down rogue quadcopters, think again.) Investigators will look into smugglers’ methods and drones-of-choice, sharing the data with forces across the country.
Prisons minister Sam Gyimah said there was a “clear” threat posed by drones, and that the government was “absolutely determined to tackle the illegal flow of drugs and mobile phones” into prisons. Gyimah added: "My message to those who involve themselves in this type of criminal activity is clear: we will find you and put you behind bars."
Daniel Kelly, the first UK citizen to be jailed for the offense, was given a 14-month sentence last year for using a quadcopter to smuggle contraband into three different prisons over a five-day period. As part of today’s news, the government also published details on a number of other drone smuggling incidents. The contraband being trafficked includes mobile phones, tobacco, and psychoactive substances like the synthetic drug Spice.
However, critics say the new focus on drones is simply a distraction from the bigger problems facing UK prisons. John Podmore, former head of the UK’s Prison Service anti-corruption unit, told BBC Radio 4 that the news was a “PR stunt” designed to distract from “jails in complete chaos.” Podmore noted that some 10,000 mobile phones are found in UK prisons annually, but only 33 incidents of drone smuggling were reported last year. “My question to the Prison Service would be, how many of those [phones] were found hanging from drones?"