A couple arrested by bungling local police who wrongly blamed them for the Gatwick drone fiasco have been handed £200,000 in compensation.
Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk were arrested and held in cells for 36 hours after their Crawley home was stormed by a dozen police gunmen in December 2018. The payout, negotiated by lawyers after the innocent couple sued police, shines fresh light on the behaviour of Sussex Police's chief constable, Giles York.
"We are delighted to have finally received vindication, it has been a very long fight for justice," said the couple in a statement reported by The Guardian newspaper. "The sums being paid by Sussex Police and letter received from the assistant chief constable are confirmation of our innocence and wrongful treatment."
The two sued in the civil courts for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
Panicky police were under pressure to find whoever was flying a drone near Gatwick Airport 18 months ago, causing it to shut down for three days right as the Christmas travel season was beginning.
Gait had been at work when the first few drone sightings were reported to police. Despite colleagues immediately vouching for him, desperate cops continued to hold him and Kirk in custody regardless, while searching for evidence.
It later emerged (by York's own admission) that Sussex Police were chasing their own drones over Gatwick, having sent them up to try and spot the errant craft causing the shutdown. Nonetheless, the chief constable made an insincere radio apology to the couple shortly after the incident – insincere because in the next breath of his BBC interview he said: "[But] what might have been worse as an experience for [Gait and Kirk] would have been to be released under investigation still."
York was suggesting that things would have been somehow worse for Gait and Kirk had his constables released the innocent couple from custody as soon as they realised they'd got it wrong, rather than keeping them for the maximum time allowed by law. The couple are said to have received "no explanation" from police as to why they were kept locked in cells for so long.
The chief constable yesterday deployed the force's assistant chief constable to take all the flak on his behalf. David Miller said in a letter to the Gaits: "We recognise that things could have been done differently and, as a result, Sussex Police have agreed to pay you compensation and legal costs."
The Gaits received £55,000 in compensation with the remaining £145,000 going to their legal costs.
Sussex Police wasted £790,000 on its failed investigation, having interviewed 96 "people of interest" in the process. Nobody else was arrested and nobody has ever been charged. It seems unlikely, two years later, that the full truth will ever be known. ®