Gatwick "drone" witness statements

Mr Onyeche made this Freedom of Information request to Sussex Police

Automatic anti-spam measures are in place for this older request. Please let us know if a further response is expected or if you are having trouble responding.

The request was refused by Sussex Police.

Dear Sussex Police,

On the 27th September 2019 - the BBC reported that Sussex Police have "no lines of inquiry" in relation to the Gatwick "drone" incident between 19th December 2018 and 21st December 2018. The incident disrupted the travel plans of 140,000 people, and some estimates have put the cost of disruption at £40 Million. This, along with the clear security implications make it perplexing that authorities appear to the public to be no longer actively investigating the incident.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-su...

The BBC article states that 129 separate reports of drone activity were logged by Sussex Police.

This is a freedom of information request - please supply me with all the witness statements that were made to Sussex Police in relation to sightings of the Gatwick "drone" for any date after 19th December 2018.

Yours faithfully,

Mr Onyeche

Sussex Police

Date: 25/5/21

 

Your Ref: None

 

Our Ref: FOI 1832/21

 

Contact Name: Roger Brace FOI Officer

Email : [email address]

 

Contact number: 101 ext 545251

 

Dear Mr. Onyeche,

 

Thank you for your request which was received by Sussex Police.

 

This request will be dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and you will receive a response within the statutory
timescale of 20 working days as defined by the Act, from the date of
receipt. In some circumstances Sussex Police may be unable to achieve this
deadline. If this is likely you will be informed and given a revised
time-scale at the earliest opportunity.

 

Some requests may also require either full or partial transference to
another public authority in order to answer your query in the fullest
possible way. Again, you will be informed if this is the case.

 

Please Note:

Sussex Police are currently receiving a high volume of FOI requests at a
time of reduced staffing levels to process them. Every effort is being
made to comply with the statutory 20 working day response deadline but on
occasions this may not be possible – we apologise for the inconvenience
this may cause.

 

 

Yours sincerely

 

FOI

 

Sussex Police HQ

Lewes

BN7 2DZ

 

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Dear Sussex Police,

Thank you, I look forward to your further response on this FOI request.

Yours faithfully,

Mr Onyeche

Dear Sussex Police,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Sussex Police's handling of my FOI request 'Gatwick "drone" witness statements'.

My FOI request (your ref: 1832/21) was originally lodged with you on 22nd May 2021, and despite it being legally required (under all circumstances) for Sussex Police to provide a response within 20 working days - now on the 23rd July 2021 after 44 working days I have still not been provided with the results of the FOI request, and no update on Sussex Police progress towards completing the FOI request has been supplied as an alternative along with a revised time-frame.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/g...

Yours faithfully,

Mr Onyeche

Sussex Police

1 Attachment

FOI REF 1832/21

 

Dear Mr Onyeche,

 

Freedom of Information

 

I refer to your request for information.

 

Please find enclosed a letter.

 

We would like to apologise again for the delay in Sussex Police responding
to your request.

 

Kind regards,

 

Information Access Officer

DPU, 3rd Floor Pevensey Block

Sussex Police HQ

BN7 2DZ

 

Tel: 01273 470101

 

You can report crime and incidents online at

[1]https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online

We want to know your views - see what’s new and give us your feedback and
suggestions at [2]www.sussex.police.uk
If you have received this message in error, please contact the sender as
soon as possible - you may not copy it, or make use of any information
contained in it for any purpose, or disclose its contents to any other
person. Messages sent and received by Sussex Police are not private and
may be the subject of monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online
2. http://www.sussex.police.uk/

Dear Sussex Police,

Thank you for your (much later than legally obligated) response to my request for Gatwick "drone" witness statements. In regards to the following paragraph in your letter:

"On weighing up the competing interests, I find the public interest favours non-disclosure of the requested information. This decision is based on the understanding that Sussex Police need to be allowed to carry out an ongoing investigation effectively away from public scrutiny to ensure accurate, thorough and objective investigative work is conducted throughout"

Can you confirm that the investigation into the Gatwick "drone" event is indeed ongoing, and not closed, given that in September 2019 it was reported by the BBC that Sussex Police had stated there were "no further realistic lines of inquiry at this time" (link to aforementioned news article below)?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-su...

Please update the public on the status of the investigation as of October 2021 and whether Sussex Police now have "realistic lines of inquiry" - given the alleged actors of the "drone" event are still at large, yet to be held to account or prevented from causing another disruptive and potentially dangerous incident, if not at Gatwick, then at another important infrastructure installation. An authentic explanation from Authorities is the very least the public deserve.

Yours faithfully,
Mr Onyeche

Dear Sussex Police,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information internal reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Sussex Police's response to my FOI request 'Gatwick "drone" witness statements' - following Sussex Police notification to me on 4th October 2021 of a decision to withhold the witness statements I originally requested on 22nd May 2021 (FOI: 1832/21).

I ask Sussex Police to review and reverse this decision, and to provide me with the witness statements, which should disclose and release in unredacted form, all content that provides a description of the "drone" in terms of its size and shape and colour, and also including descriptions of any light and sound that the "drone" may have been seen or heard by witnesses to have been emitted, as well as disclose and release any content which provides a description of the "drone" velocity (including any subjective word-terms such as "slow", "fast", as well as any estimated numeric velocities), and also disclose and release descriptions of the movement of the "drone", and the reported time-duration which a witness observed the drone, along with any estimations of the distances away from the "drone" that a witness stated they observed it from (including any subjective word-terms such as "close", "far" as well as any estimated numeric distances).

As part of my request that Sussex Police review and reverse their decision to withhold originally made on the basis of Section 30(1) and Section 40(2) of Freedom of Information Act 2000, I ask that all other content in the witness statements are redacted, and that only the requested descriptions of the drone should be released and disclosed unredacted.

To comply with the application of Section 30(1)(a) of Freedom of Information Act 2000, "Investigations and Proceedings Conducted by Public Authorities", and to favour disclosure - I request that you please ensure that all information that might enable the identification of confidential sources, are redacted. My request for the eye witness anecdotal descriptions of the "drone", its movement, its speed, and its distance, would not enable the identification of confidential sources. Sussex Police is required to undertake the appropriate public interest test in regards to disclosure of requested information, and it is in the interest of the public, for this information to be released and disclosed as we approach the 3 year anniversary of the unsolved, disruptive and highly costly Gatwick "drone" incident.

To comply with the application of Section 40(2) of Freedom of Information Act 2000 "Personal Data", and to favour disclosure - I request that you please ensure that any personal information relating to the witnesses, are redacted, to prevent any possibility of the identification of witnesses, and so as to remain lawful under the terms of the 1st and 2nd Principles of the Data Protection Act 1998. My request for the eye witness anecdotal descriptions of the drone, its movement, its speed, and its distance, would not disclose personal data or breach data protection laws. This information about the unsolved, disruptive and highly costly Gatwick "drone" incident can be released by Sussex Police, whilst simultaneously safeguarding the identities and confidential information of all witnesses, and without compromising any future prosecution case of any alleged perpetrator of the Gatwick "drone" incident.

I look forward to Sussex Police conducting this internal review, and in a timely manner that complies with Sussex Police legal obligations for handling FOI requests, releasing and disclosing to myself and my fellow citizens of the public, the descriptions I have requested of the Gatwick "drone" as observed and anecdotally described by eye witnesses statements submitted to Sussex Police for the 19th December to 21st December 2018 incident, in the partially unredacted format which fulfills the two prior listed Freedom of Information Act 2000 Section guidelines that enable the favouring of disclosure.

Yours sincerely
Mr Onyeche

Sussex Police

1 Attachment

FOI IR REF 3516/21

Dear Mr Onyeche,

Freedom of Information - Internal Review

I refer to your request for a review of the information received by Sussex Police.

Please find enclosed a letter.

Kind regards,

FOI Team.

DPU, 3rd Floor Pevensey Block
Sussex Police HQ
BN7 2DZ

Tel: 01273 470101

show quoted sections

Dear Sussex Police,

Thank you for the timely response. I look forward to the outcome of the internal review for this FOI request, or a further update on progress towards it on or before 18/11/2021.

Yours faithfully,
Mr Onyeche

Sussex Police

1 Attachment

 

 

FOI REF 3516/21

 

Dear Mr. Onyeche,

 

Freedom of Information

 

I refer to your request for information which may be held by Sussex
Police.

 

Please find enclosed a letter.

 

Kind regards,

 

Information Access Officer

DPU, 3rd Floor Pevensey Block

Sussex Police HQ

BN7 2DZ

 

Tel: 01273 470101

 

You can report crime and incidents online at

[1]https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online

We want to know your views - see what’s new and give us your feedback and
suggestions at [2]www.sussex.police.uk
If you have received this message in error, please contact the sender as
soon as possible - you may not copy it, or make use of any information
contained in it for any purpose, or disclose its contents to any other
person. Messages sent and received by Sussex Police are not private and
may be the subject of monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online
2. http://www.sussex.police.uk/

Dear Sussex Police,

Thank you for your timely response.

In regards to my refined request that you supply the Gatwick "drone" witness statements after you have redacted all information that might otherwise enable the identification of the witnesses (to conform with Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000), and only release the content that meets the following specification:

"all content that provides a description of the "drone" in terms of its size and shape and colour, and also including descriptions of any light and sound that the "drone" may have been seen or heard by witnesses to have been emitted, as well as disclose and release any content which provides a description of the "drone" velocity (including any subjective word-terms such as "slow", "fast", as well as any estimated numeric velocities), and also disclose and release descriptions of the movement of the "drone", and the reported time-duration which a witness observed the drone, along with any estimations of the distances away from the "drone" that a witness stated they observed it from (including any subjective word-terms such as "close", "far" as well as any estimated numeric distances)."

Your latest response that you have chosen to exempt the release of this more specific information by using Section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (whilst acknowledging Section 40 would no longer apply), implies that such content describing the characteristics and behaviour of the drone is indeed contained in the Gatwick "drone" witness statements held under Sussex Police custodianship, however your response does not clearly confirm that such descriptions are held in the witness statements.

Hence please clearly confirm (as is required by the Freedom of Information Act 2000):

1) With a simple "yes" or "no", whether any of the Gatwick "drone" witness statements do contain any descriptions of the "drone" as specified in my refined FOI enquiry, and consequently that descriptions as I have specified of the "drone" are held by Sussex Police - as they are documented in the witness statements?

2) Please notify me of the total number of individual Gatwick "drone" witness statements that contain any descriptions of the "drone" as I have specified in my refined FOI enquiry .

Answering either of these question would not prejudice the Gatwick "drone" investigation (or any future prosecution) and hence Section 30 of Freedom of Information Act 2000 "Investigations and Proceedings Conducted by Public Authorities" would certainly favour the disclosure by Sussex Police of the answer to these two questions. If these two questions need to be treated as a new FOI request, then please do so, and specify that is the case in your next response.

My final comment on your latest response to my Gatwick "drone" FOI is - I still believe it would be in the public interest for Sussex Police to release any anecdotal descriptions there are of the Gatwick "drone" as documented in the witness statements. Sussex Police have admitted on several occasions since September 2019 that there are "no current or realistic lines of enquiry", hence providing the anecdotal descriptions of the Gatwick "drone" as documented in the witness statements could open up new lines of enquiry, potentially leading to the perpetrator being identified (given that Sussex Police have not revoked their public standpoint from the time of the event that they assessed there was definitely a "drone" observed at Gatwick - and it was not simply a case of mis-identification by witnesses).

It's time to end Sussex Police and UK Government Authorities embargo on the truth - the public have a right to know the full nature of the highly disruptive, costly and (if Authorities are to be believed as implied by their response at that time) potentially dangerous events that caused the cessation of flights over several days at Gatwick Airport in December 2018.

Yours faithfully,
Mr Onyeche

Sussex Police

Good morning,

 

Thank you for your FOI request.

 

We would like to inform you that unfortunately we are unlikely to respond
to your FOI request within the 20 Day time limit.

 

We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused and we will
endeavour to provide you with a response as soon as possible.

 

Kind regards,

 

FOI Team.

 

 

You can report crime and incidents online at

[1]https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online

We want to know your views - see what’s new and give us your feedback and
suggestions at [2]www.sussex.police.uk
If you have received this message in error, please contact the sender as
soon as possible - you may not copy it, or make use of any information
contained in it for any purpose, or disclose its contents to any other
person. Messages sent and received by Sussex Police are not private and
may be the subject of monitoring.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.sussex.police.uk/report-online
2. http://www.sussex.police.uk/

Dear Sussex Police,

Your latest response on 13th January 2022 to inform me of nothing more apart from that you may not be able to respond within the 20 day legal-requirement, was sent 36 working days after my previous email asking for you to provide further clarification in your FOI response.

That is clearly an inadequate response. If you have not been able to meet the 20 day legal-requirement, please advise me of a revised estimated date for when you will provide me with the necessary clarification requested in my prior enquiry?

Due to the continual circumvention of FOI handling regulations by Sussex Police in regards to all enquiries about the Gatwick Drone event, I have lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in December 2021 (IC-145439-N6M3), in relation to FOI 1832/2.

Please review and improve your policies as soon as possible for responding to existing and future Freedom of Information inquiries relating to the Gatwick Drone event, including providing full and transparent answers to the questions the public rightly have on the matter, to prevent additional complaints to the ICO in the coming weeks.

Yours faithfully,
Mr Onyeche

For the record on the "What Do They Know" website - the following response to original FOI 1832/21 was received from Sussex Police on 6th May 2022, via Information Commissioners Office on 11th May 2022
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Your Ref: Freedom of Information Our Ref: IR of FOI 4134/21 Date: 06/05/2022

Contact Name: Data Protection Unit Tel. Extension: n/a Direct Dial No: 01273 470101

Dear Mr Onyeche,

I write with reference to your revised request for information sent on 21 November 2021. You asked:

“Your latest response that you have chosen to exempt the release of this more specific information by using Section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (whilst acknowledging Section 40 would no longer apply), implies that such content describing the characteristics and behaviour of the drone is indeed contained in the Gatwick "drone" witness statements held under Sussex Police custodianship, however your response does not clearly confirm that such descriptions are held in the witness statements.

Hence please clearly confirm (as is required by the Freedom of Information Act 2000):

1) With a simple "yes" or "no", whether any of the Gatwick "drone" witness statements do contain any descriptions of the "drone" as specified in my refined FOI enquiry, and consequently that descriptions as I have specified of the "drone" are held by Sussex Police - as they are documented in the witness statements?

2) Please notify me of the total number of individual Gatwick "drone" witness statements that contain any descriptions of the "drone" as I have specified in my refined FOI enquiry.”

Response:

To clarify one point in your request, the section 40 exemption would apply to any personal information held in witness statements, but in your previous correspondence you revised your request to exclude any personal data contained in witness statements from the scope of your request.

Turning to the request detailed above, section 1 of the Freedom of information Act 2000 (FOIA) places two duties on public authorities. Unless exemptions apply, the first duty at s1(1)(a) is to confirm or deny whether the information specified within a request is held. The second duty at s1(1)(b) is to disclose information that has been confirmed as being held. Where exemptions are relied upon Section 17 of the FOIA requires that we provide the applicant with a notice which: a) states that fact, b) specifies the exemption(s) in question and c) state (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.

Unfortunately we are unable to disclose the information you seek and can neither confirm nor deny whether the specific information you have requested is held in the witness statements.

Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires Sussex Police, when refusing to provide such information (because the information is exempt) to provide you the applicant with a notice which:

(a) States that fact,
(b) Specifies the exemption in question; and
(c) States (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemption applies.

The exemptions applicable to the information refused are;

• Section 30(1)(a) Investigations
• Section 30(3) Investigations (duty to confirm or deny)

Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption and consideration must be given as to whether there is a public interest.

The section 30(1)(a) exemption applies to the content of witness statements as they form part of the information held as part of the investigation. Section 30(3) states that “the duty to confirm or deny does not arise in relation to information which is (or if it were held by the public authority would be) exempt information”. Consequently, we would neither confirm nor deny whether the type of information described in your request is contained in the exempt witness statements, and therefore we would neither confirm nor deny the number of statements which may contain such descriptions.

Favour of disclosure

It is recognised that the police service have a duty to enforce the law and investigate crime and the public release of information would therefore reinforce the forces commitment as an open and transparent service in respect of the information it holds.

Favour of Non-disclosure

If information of this nature were to be disclosed this could potentially compromise this investigation into what is currently an unsolved crime, or compromise related or similar investigations. Disclosure would hinder the prevention or detection of crime, undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement with other agencies, and would subsequently affect the force’s future law enforcement capabilities. This would also affect the force’s ability to ascertain whether any person is responsible and could assist offenders in commissioning similar crimes.

The Police service needs to be allowed to carry out investigations effectively away from public scrutiny, otherwise it will be difficult for accurate, thorough and objective investigations to be carried out. It would not be in the public interest to release information that may interfere with court proceedings or prevent an individual from being brought to justice.

It remains the case that other than information already in the public domain, information relating to an investigation is unlikely to be disclosed under FOIA (subject to the outcome of a Public Interest Test) as it is likely to prejudice that investigation.

Furthermore, the information you have requested relates to witness statements. Those giving witness statements do so in the expectation that they will not be made public and will be used only to assist in the detection of crime and the prosecution of offenders; disclosure of witness statements would discourage witnesses to give statements to the police in this and other cases.

Balancing Test

The points above highlight the merits or otherwise of confirming whether any information pertinent to this request exists. The Police service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. As part of that policing purpose, we have a duty of care to the members of the public and a duty to ensure public confidence in Sussex Police. The expectation of those giving witness statements is that they will not be made public unless it is as part of the investigation or any resulting prosecutions, and witnesses could be deterred from making statements if their information was not treated confidentially.

The strongest argument for disclosure, which is public awareness, needs to be weighed against the strongest arguments for non-disclosure, which in this case is the undermining and prejudice of an investigation into a serious unsolved crime, which would impact on the force’s future law enforcement capabilities by hindering the prevention or detection of crime.

On weighing up the competing interests, I find the public interest favours neither confirming nor denying whether the requested information is contained in witness statements. This decision is based on the understanding that the public interest is not what interests sections of the public, but what would be of greater good to the community as a whole.

In accordance with Section 17(5) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this acts as a Refusal Notice for the information not disclosed.

Should you have any questions about this response, please do not hesitate to contact the FOI team.

Yours sincerely,

Data Protection Unit
Pevensey Block
Sussex Police HQ
Lewes
BN7 2DZ