Criminal use of drones to smuggle drugs into prisons is at record high, figures show

Damian Hinds - Anthony Upton

Damian Hinds – Anthony Upton

Attempts by criminals to use drones to smuggle drugs, cell phones and other contraband into prisons have nearly doubled in a year, according to official figures.

Increased security at prison gates, including X-ray body scanners, sniffer dogs, metal detector belts and airport-style baggage checks, has forced gangs to turn to drones to try to smuggle illegal goods into prisons.

Department of Justice (MoJ) data show that the number of drones seen, captured or rescued in prisons in England and Wales increased from 122 in 2019 to 134 in 2020 and 248 in 2021.

Authorities believe the increase can be attributed to the increase in detections and the advanced technology used to detect drones in prisons. The increase also coincided with the Covid epidemic, where social visits to prisons were suspended or severely restricted, forcing criminals to find alternative methods of smuggling contraband.

hide in the bushes

Blocked attempts included HMP Parc in Bridgend, where the 22-year-old drone operator was caught hiding in nearby bushes and using an iPad to control the device.

The Newport Crown Court was told that Simeon Richards had attached an orange and black soccer sock to his drone that contained 399 buprenorphine tablets, about 30g of marijuana, and four packs, including 11 cell phones and their chargers. prison.

Richards was in cell phone contact with inmates inside the prison who were planning to pick up the packages when they landed. But the prison security personnel’s anti-drone system detected the app he used on his iPad to manipulate the device and alerted the police.

Police found him after hearing rustling in nearby bushes descending on the M4 and arrested him after he was spotted walking down the hard shoulder of the highway. He was arrested and an iPad was seized in his hand.

Five years in prison

The court was told that in a prison setting the value of buprenorphine tablets was between £12,000 and £18,000, the potential value of cannabis was between £2,240 and £6,720 and the value of phones up to £11,000. Richards was sentenced to five years in prison.

Prisons minister Damian Hinds said: “We are working hard to deter, detect and curb the illegal use of drones. We conduct site-wide assessments to understand risk and implement targeted countermeasures such as improved cell windows, networks, and physical upgrades.”

More than 51 people involved in criminal drone activities in prisons have been convicted since 2016, and those responsible were sentenced to a total of 159 years in prison.

Mr Hinds added: “Recent joint operations with the police and [HM Prison and Probation Service] It resulted in more drone-related arrests and disruption of Serious and Organized Crime network activities.”

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