Criminals are using drones to smuggle superstrength drugs and mobile phones into prisons, it has been revealed. The cunning tactic was discovered when a craft carrying a cargo of cannabis was found crashed in a secluded area of the Category B Bullingdon prison, in Bicester, Oxfordshire.
The carefully organised delivery saw the craft operating in one of the very few areas of the prison not covered by CCTV cameras, suggesting its pilot was well-informed about the jail's security setup. It is believed the superstrength skunk and selection of mobile phones and chargers it was carrying were ordered by prisoners in time for the Christmas period.
The fact the undercover operation was only discovered when a drone crashed has raised serious security concerns and left prison officials wondering how many successful deliveries were made in recent years. It is not yet known whether the drone was being operated by an individual trying to help a friend or relative on the inside, or if an organised criminal gang were behind it.
An "insider" was quoted by The Sun as saying: "The drone was in a part of the jail without CCTV. It was well-planned. We've no idea how many times this method of smuggling has been used before." Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association added: "Drones are a major security issue. They are being used more frequently. It was only luck that this one crashed before it could be emptied."
Drones have previously been used to smuggle illegal items into prisons. The most recent example was at Strangeways where prison staff found a drone stuffed with contraband crashed in the yard.
The current punishment for being caught using a drone to smuggle illegal items into prison is two years in jail. In theory, the sentence could be even longer, depending on what is being delivered.
The Ministry of Justice wants this law to be extended to include legal items such as mobile phones and so-called legal highs. It also wants it to be made a crime to land a drone on prison property, regardless of whether it is carrying anything.
Prisoners found in possession of banned items or items believed to have been smuggled in from the outside are already met with similar punishments. Prison officials currently work with police and prosecutors to extend the sentences of those discovered with such items.
Despite predictions that drones will be one of this year's most popular Christmas presents, parents may be forced to register the purchase with the local authorities who can track the craft in case it becomes involved in any illegal or dangerous activities, according to the Daily Mail.
Four drones were involved in near misses with commercial aircraft at British airports during a single month this summer. It is understood that over the past six months, at least, 10 drones have been found crashed on prison property or in the area immediately outside the walls.