Security alert over prison drone threat

A drone in flight
A drone in flight

NEW security measures are having to be introduced at Wigan’s prison to ward off the menace of drones.

While the remote-control devices have proved useful in all manner of legitimate ways - whether it be aerial photographci coverage of events to archaeological surveys at a fraction of the expense of a helicopter - they are posing increasing problems at jails.

This is particularly when crooks use them to drop items into prisons, including drugs, mobiles and weapons, and is “an emerging threat”, an intelligence analyst has warned.

Even the highest security prisons are vulnerable to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Eve Richard, a senior analyst at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) intelligence unit said, the Independent reported.

While there is no evidence to suggest drones have been used to smuggle weapons into prisons there is the potential for that to happen in future, she told a briefing at the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London.

According to the paper Ms Richard said: “In a nutshell, our intelligence suggests that the use of UAVs to release items into our prisons is an emerging threat.

“It’s not a huge issue at the moment but there is the potential for it to increase and become more of an issue.”

There were nine attempts to use drones to infiltrate prisons in England and Wales in the first five months of this year, compared to four in total last year, NOMS said.

The paper reported that there was an attempt to fly a drone carrying mobile phones and drugs into Bedford Prison earlier this year, while in recent weeks a UAV was found crashed into fencing at Liverpool Prison.

The Ministry of Justice declined to confirm if there had been any specific incidents involving drones at Hindley Young Offenders’ Institution.

But a spokesman said: “Incidents involving drones are rare, but we remain constantly vigilant to all new threats to prison security. We are introducing new legislation to further strengthen our powers, making it illegal to land a drone in prison or to use a drone to drop in psychoactive substances.”

“Anyone using drones in an attempt to get contraband into prisons can be punished with a sentence of up to two years.

“We take a zero tolerance approach to illicit material in prisons and work closely with the police and CPS to ensure those caught are prosecuted and face extra time behind bars.”

It is already a criminal offence to throw drugs or other items into a prison and the UK prison estate now has 100 dogs trained in tracing psycho-active substances, such as spice.

The MoJ says it continues to explore new technologies such as body scanners to tackle the threat of drugs.

And when drugs are found at a prison both the sender and recipient are reported to police and can expect a jail sentence.