It is now a criminal offence to fly drones within 400 metres of prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales.
The legal change, which came into effect on January 25, means that anyone operating a drone within one of the new no-fly zones could face criminal proceedings if they are caught.
Individuals face a fine of up to £2,500 if they operate a drone within the 400-metre no-fly zone, while much heftier sentences of up to 10 years in prison could be handed down to anyone found to be using a drone to smuggle illicit items which drive violence and criminality.
Previously, police could only intervene if someone was flying a drone near a prison and there was evidence of contraband being smuggled. Now, it is an automatic offence to operate a drone in one of the new no-fly zones.
The new law comes as figures reveal that the number of drones captured or sighted within prison grounds has more than doubled between 2019 and 2021.
Indeed, over 500 drones were either sighted, intercepted or seized around prisons in England and Wales between 2019 and 2021.
One incident saw an organised gang attempt to use a drone to smuggle Class A drugs, mobile phones and SIM cards worth upwards of £1.7m into HMP Risley in Cheshire. But their plans were thwarted by an extensive joint operation between Cheshire Police and staff at the prison, with the seven individuals involved convicted and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.
“We are working harder than ever to prevent the smuggling of contraband into our prisons and this is the latest step to keep ahead of the tactics exploited by organised criminals.Edward Argar, Prisons Minister.
“These new anti-drone measures – along with our advanced airport-style X-ray security and drug detection dogs – will crack down on those illicit items that fuel violence behind bars.”
The Ministry of Justice says that requests to operate drones inside the no-fly zones can be made via the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Airspace Regulation notification form. Exemptions, if approved, will then be issued by His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
National Police Chiefs’ Council drones lead Stuart Lawless spoke to Emergency Services Times about the work UK police forces are doing with drones and innovation under its new EagleX programme.