Drones are being used increasingly for surveillance and making security measures more effective. Now, the UK government is planning introduce an anti-drone system to stop drug smuggling in English prisons after a successful six-month experiment in Guernsey, according to reports by the Guardian.
The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, told MPs officials were considering rolling out the scheme. In his annual report, the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said the ready availability of drugs in prisons contributed to an alarming rise in violence. The problem of drone smuggling was highlighted by the conviction in October of seven members of a gang who airlifted £500,000 worth of drugs into prisons. “We have seen examples of how effective this technology can be, but so far it is only being used in a very few locations,” he wrote.
Apparently, the failure of prison authorities in preventing drone smuggling was fuelling the growing drug problem in jails and tipped the scale in favour of drone use. SkyFence from Drone Defence Company was used. It effectively blocks radio signals around a prison whenever drones are detected. The governor of Guernsey prison said it had worked “superbly” since it was installed. Speaking to the Guardian Dave Matthews said that since the system was launched on 14 June, no drones had breached the prison’s perimeter neither had devices been damaged in the process.
“We put this up because we saw what was happening in the UK and we knew it was only a matter of time before Guernsey became victim to deliveries by drones,” Matthews said.
Last month, HM Prison Service downplayed the success of the technology. A spokesman said: “While there are some advantages to this technology, it doesn’t help us to catch criminals attempting to smuggle contraband into prisons or intercept illegal drugs and mobile phones.”
The initial reluctance to adopt the system dismayed prison staff; they said that making prisons safe should be given priority. The government is understood to be anxious to avoid potentially costly legal fees if property is damaged or people are hurt by drones intercepted around prisons. Under the 2012 Prison Act, prisons can block mobile phone signals. The authorities in Guernsey amended this legislation to include drones.
SkyFence has been activated on average 32 times per month, mainly after detecting drones being used for innocent purposes near the prison. However it has picked up some suspicious activity, including a week in the summer when drones were detected at about 2am several days in a row.
Matthews said SkyFence only blocked signals rather than knocking drones to the ground. Once the signal was lost all drones had inbuilt homing systems that returned them to their operator.
The system was tested by Elliott Cockett who runs a business in Guernsey called Drone Ranger who attempted breach the perimeter, but failed. Cockett said, “It doesn’t tamper with the drone; it just blocks the communication between the remote and the drone.”