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Gatwick drone attack possible inside job, say police

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The drone attack that caused chaos at Gatwick before Christmas was carried out by someone with knowledge of the airport’s operational procedures, the airport has said.

A Gatwick chief told BBC Panorama the drone’s pilot “seemed to be able to see what was happening on the runway”.

Sussex Police told the programme the possibility an “insider” was involved was a “credible line” of inquiry.

About 140,000 passengers were caught up in the disruption.

The runway at the UK’s second busiest airport was closed for 33 hours between 19 and 21 December last year – causing about 1,000 flights to be cancelled or delayed.

In his first interview since the incident, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, told Panorama: “It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport.”

Mr Woodroofe, who was the executive overseeing the airport’s response to the attack – the “gold commander” – also said that whoever was piloting the drone could either see what was happening on the runway, or was following the airport’s actions by eavesdropping on radio or internet communications.

And whoever was responsible for the attack had “specifically selected” a drone which could not be seen by the DJI Aeroscope drone detection system that the airport was testing at the time, he added.

‘No overreaction’

Despite a huge operation drawing resources from five other forces and a £50,000 reward, there is still no trace of the culprit.

Sussex Police says its investigation is ongoing and expected to take “some months to complete”.

The first sighting of the drone was at 21:03 GMT on 19 December but it was not until 05:57 GMT on 21 December that flights resumed with an aircraft landing.

Gatwick says it repeatedly tried to reopen the runway but on each occasion the drone reappeared.

Airport protocol mandates that the runway be closed if a drone is present.

Mr Woodroofe denied claims the airport overreacted, describing the situation it faced as an unprecedented, “malicious” and “criminal” incident.

“There is absolutely nothing that I would do differently when I look back at the incident, because ultimately, my number one priority has to be to maintain the safety of our passengers, and that’s what we did.

“It was terrible that 140,000 people’s journeys were disrupted – but everyone was safe.”

Mr Woodroofe also dismissed the suggestion that the number of sightings had been exaggerated – and a theory, circulating online, that there had been no drone at all.

These claims have been fuelled by the fact that there are no verified pictures of the drone, and very few eyewitnesses have spoken publicly.

Police told the BBC they had recorded 130 separate credible drone sightings by a total of 115 people, all but six of whom were professionals, including police officers, security personnel, air traffic control staff and pilots.

Mr Woodroofe said that many of the drone sightings were by people he knew personally and trusted – “members of my team, people I have worked with for a decade, people who have worked for thirty years on the airfield, who fully understand the implications of reporting a drone sighting”.

“They knew they’d seen a drone. I know they saw a drone. We appropriately closed the airport.”

Panorama has been told witnesses reported seeing an extremely fast-moving, large drone with bright lights.

At least one person noted the characteristic cross shape while others described it as “industrial or commercial” and “not something you could pop into Argos for”, an airport spokesperson said.

Threat remains

Other international airports have installed counter-drone technology and Gatwick has confirmed that, in the days after the attack, it spent £5m on similar equipment.

Asked whether Gatwick should have done more to protect the airport from drones before the incident, Mr Woodroofe said the government had not approved any equipment for drone detection at that stage.

“The equipment I have on site today is painted sand yellow because it comes straight from the military environment,” he added.

Panorama has learned that Gatwick bought two sets of the AUDS (Anti-UAV Defence System) anti-drone system made by a consortium of three British companies.

AUDS was one of two systems the military deployed at the airport on the evening of 20 December.

Mr Woodroofe said he was confident that the airport was now much better protected.

“We would know the drone was arriving on site and we’d know where that drone had come from, where it was going to, and we’d have a much better chance of catching the perpetrator.”

Every day, he said, the airport sends up a drone to test the detection equipment, and “it finds that drone”.

But he added: “What this incident has demonstrated is that a drone operator with malicious intent can cause serious disruption to airport operations.

“And it’s clear that disruption could be carried over into other industries and other environments.”

Panorama, The Gatwick Drone Attack, will be shown on BBC One at 20:30 BST on Monday 15 April and on BBC iPlayer It will also be shown on BBC World News at a later date

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Brighton meningitis amputee 'can even drive car'

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A man who almost died from meningitis has revealed how he began to look forward to having his limbs amputated.

Mike Davies, 60, from Brighton, spent 70 days in intensive care with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.

During this time, he said he knew his hands and feet were “dead” and he would recover better without them.

Now he says he is in a positive place and “can even hold a pint of beer”.

With the help of prosthetic limbs, Mr Davies can drive a specially-adapted car and said he was living life to the full.

“My message to anyone who has amputations would be not to give up,” he said.

The illness struck on Christmas Eve in 2017 when he began to get “colder and colder”.

He said: “Climbing into bed didn’t help. I looked like a ghost with blue lips.”

His family insisted he went to Royal Sussex County Hospital.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, his wife Julie and son Rory were taken to a room and told he was unlikely to survive.

‘A lucky man’

“When they held my hand, I could not feel it. My hands and feet were dying,” he said.

During 10 weeks in hospital “on the edge of survival”, he knew his limbs had to go.

“I began to look forward to having my hands and feet amputated

“I was on a lot of medication and I was very accepting that they needed to go for me to make a recovery” he said.

He spent two and a half months at Queen Mary’s University Hospital, Roehampton, learning to walk on prosthetic legs.

Since then, he has “walked three miles”, can feed himself, using cutlery strapped to his arms, and can “even hold a pint of beer”.

“I feel in quite a positive place in my mind about the challenges I still have to overcome.

“Support from other people has been key. I am a lucky man,” he said.

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Kai Gasson jailed for Crawley street stabbing murder

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A teenager who stabbed a man to death in a street has been jailed for life.

Kai Gasson, 17, had denied the murder of Arnold Potter in Crawley but was convicted and ordered to serve at least 15 years.

Reporting restrictions were lifted at Lewes Crown Court so unemployed Gasson, who lived in Crawley, could be named.

Mr Potter, 24, died in Watson Close, Maidenbower, on 15 November after he was wounded in the torso with a lock knife.

After the hearing, Det Ch Insp Andy Richardson said Gasson “rightly” faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars after the jury rejected his claim that he acted in self-defence after a row about drugs.

“Had Gasson not been in possession of a knife that day, he would not have stabbed anyone and he would not now be facing a sentence,” he said.

“We must continue to educate people – particularly young people – that carrying offensive weapons in public is a serious offence which ruins lives.”

Gasson was also found guilty of possessing a knife and admitted possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

After the court case, a family tribute issued through police said Mr Potter was a caring, kind-hearted man who had been loved by many.

The family said: “Please educate your children about knife crime, as it impacts every member of your family.

“Life goes on, but life will never be the same again for us.”

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Child held near cliff edge at Seven Sisters prompts warning

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The National Trust has warned people to “act sensibly” after pictures emerged of a man holding a child inches from an unstable cliff edge.

The pair were pictured on Monday at Seven Sisters near Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In 2017, 50,000 tonnes of the cliff crumbled and fell to the beach below.

The following day a 23-year-old South Korean tourist fell to her death when she jumped in the air for a picture and lost her footing on the edge.

Others were also seen near the edge and the Trust spokeswoman said: “It isn’t safe to stand or sit on the cliff edge.

“The cliffs are unstable in places and there are undercuts in the chalk, which people may be unaware of from the top.

“We advise visitors to act sensibly.”

There are permanent signs in place warning people of the danger.

MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield said the warm weather made an “ideal time to visit the coast”. However, she said it was “disappointing and concerning” to see people on the edge or “dangling children on the edge”.

“We know how dangerous those cliff edges are. We know people have been injured, and we’ve had tragic loss of life in the past.”

Ms Caulfield said she will speak to local councils on how to tackle the safety issues in future.

Previously, some have criticised the signage for not standing out, and there have been calls for signs in foreign languages as tourism from the Far East increases.

Ms Caulfield said: “It’s a difficult balance… if you put too much fencing or signage you destroy the beauty of the place.

“But it’s clear, despite the efforts of the local councils, the signs that are there are not enough to deter people from going close to the cliff edge.”

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