A quadcopter carrying drugs and mobile phones crashed in a yard of Manchester's Strangeways prison last Friday, and while residents were deprived of that particular cargo, a former inmate claims cases of airborne contraband delivery are "rife".
According to the Manchester Evening News, a Prison Service spokesperson said: "A drone was successfully intercepted by staff at Manchester prison on Friday, 6 November. All contraband was seized and handed to the police to investigate."
An ex-resident of the prison told the paper: "Drones have been used to get phones and drugs into Strangeways for about a year. It's rife. Someone parks up outside the prison in a van with a drone with a camera on it."
"It goes up and over the wall and someone inside a cell just climbs up onto the radiator, opens the window and pulls the drone inside. He rips away the masking tape, takes the drugs, phones, chargers and whatever and then launches the thing again outside. It’s done in 30 seconds. None of the CCTV cameras is pointing at the sky."
"It's like ordering a Chinese. It's that easy. And it's lucrative. A £20 bag of heroin is worth maybe £100 on the inside. A smartphone will sell for between £800 and £1,000."
Glyn Travis, of the Prison Officers’ Association, confirmed the economics of the flying service. He said: "Technology like drones allows criminals to drop contraband virtually onto a pedestal. A drone might cost £300 or £400 but there’s big money to be made. If it breaks, that's just short change."
The Manchester Evening News notes that the UK's Ministry of Justice is attempting to take a bigger stick to those operating prison-penetrating UAVs, but it remains to be seen if this has any effect on what is rapidly becoming a major headache for authorities worldwide.
The first reported attempt to get drugs into a UK jail was back in March, when the vehicle got tangled in razor wire at HMP Bedford.
In June, a similar mission into Dublin's Wheatfield Prison ended with the drone hitting wires designed to prevent helicopter landings.
In Australia, meanwhile, a man was cuffed earlier this year in possession of drugs and a quadcopter after reports of the UAV buzzing the Metropolitan Remand Centre in Melbourne.
Over in the US, a drone-dropped package containing tobacco, marijuana and heroin prompted a recreation yard brawl in August.
As we reported last week, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons has asked for suggestions as to how it might go about "countering, mitigating, and/or interdicting the impact and possible nefarious intent of unmanned aerial systems (UAS)". ®