Looks like drones are in the national news this week for all the wrong reasons; gang ringleader 35 year old Craig Hickinbottom is today starting a 7 year and 2 month sentence behind bars for smuggling contraband into prisons from West Midlands to Scotland.
As consumers we appreciate the rapid advancements in drone technology, but together with better affordability these now pose a challenge for law enforcement, (and in particular, prison officials) because drones are being used for their contraband smuggling skills.
In prisons everything is monitored and there are items which are prohibited within prison walls. Contraband can include, drugs, guns, porn, cell phones, keys, and anything the prison deems dangerous or unnecessary for its prisoners.
Over the years the attempts to smuggle such contraband into prisons has ranged from loved ones carrying it in, to even guards bringing items in for prisoners.
But yesterday’s sentencing of 10 gang members at Birmingham Crown Court proves again that now UAV’s in unscrupulous hands can be the ultimate accessories in such crimes.
Former armed robber and inmate Craig Hickinbottom organised at least 49 drone flights from his prison cell, and between July 2015 and May 2017 a predicted £1.2 million of contraband was airlifted into HMPs in Birmingham, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Liverpool and Perth.
36 year old Mervyn Foster was the gang’s prime organiser on the outside. He and Craig pleaded guilty to conspiring to bring prohibited items into prison and conspiracy to supply psychoactive substances. Mervyn got a slightly lesser 6 year and 8 month sentence.
Over the years the gang adopted more sophisticated techniques; initially they started by throwing objects over the prison walls, and progressed onto using drones, which enabled transportation of drugs, phones, weapons, screwdrivers, SIM cards and even a Freeview box with remote control!
To whir in the goods, the smugglers strapped them onto the drones using fishing line and hooks. CCTV in-prison footage revealed modified hooks being carried for dragging the fishing line in through the cell window, and then separate footage of prisoners visiting cells for their specially ordered and delivered packages.
Totally by chance, wildlife cameras set up in the nearby Worcestershire field adjacent to HMP Howell caught the drone smuggling gang loading up the booty onto the drone and breaching the prison perimeter with ease.
The drone memories used by this gang were ceased and linked to the mobile phone calls the smugglers made to convict the 10 gang members.
Even though an innocuous wildlife camera helped stop this gang in its tracks this time round, it sounds like the authorities will be on a heightened look-out for rogue drug smuggling drones in the future.