Government Looks For Tech To Support Prison Anti-Drone Squad

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The specialist squad formed earlier this year aims to tackle the problem of drones being used to smuggle contraband into prisons

government parliament big ben public sector clouds bird © Samot ShutterstockThe Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has begun the process of procuring software for a specialist squad dedicated to combating the smuggling of contraband into prisons using drones.

The team was formed in April to investigate drones used in prison smuggling in an effort to track down those behind the trade, which has become a growing problem in recent years.

The MoJ issued a prior information notice (PIN) on behalf of HM Prison and Probation Service asking for responses from IT suppliers on support for the squad.

Any resulting contract would be worth about £7 million, according to the notice, but the MoJ provided few details, citing security concerns.

Drone threat

Drones are increasingly used to smuggle drugs and mobile phones, as well as other prohibited items, into prisons.

“The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country,” said prisons minister Sam Gyimah in April.

The team brings together staff from police as well as HMPPS, who are to gather intelligence from across the UK and pass it along to local forces and organised crime officers.

Last week the head of a smuggling gang that used drones was sentenced to seven years and two months in prison for organising flights of contraband worth about £1m into jails as far apart as the West Midlands and Scotland.

Former armed robber Craig Hickinbottom, 35, led the group from behind bars at HMP Featherstone in Staffordshire and later Hewell, Birmingham Crown Court was told.

Convictions

Drone pilot Mervyn Foster, 36, of Tipton in the West Midlands, was also jailed for six years and eight months. Foster was said to be the group’s main organiser outside prison.

The gang was convicted of carrying out 49 drone flights, but police said the actual number is likely to have been far higher.

They were caught by chance after cameras were set up to film wildlife outside HMP Hewell in Worcestershire.

Recordings showed two of the gang in a field preparing a drone for flight, then sending it flying over a hedge into the prison’s grounds. There, the packages were retrieved by inmates, who distributed them to others – as was recorded by prison CCTV footage.

Besides drugs and mobile phones, the group smuggled weapons, screwdrivers, SIM cards and a Freeview box with a remote control.

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