New “no-fly zones” have been introduced around prisons in England and Wales to stop drones being used to deliver drugs and contraband to inmates.
The legal change means drone operators could face fines of up to £2,500 for flying within 400 metres of closed prisons or young offender institutions.
People caught smuggling items behind bars already face up to 10 years in prison.
Despite promises as far back as 2016 by then-justice secretary Liz Truss to create no-fly zones around prisons, prior to the change police were only able to act on drone sightings when there was evidence of contraband being illegally smuggled.
The new restrictions, which came into force on Thursday, mean authorities should be able to swiftly identify suspicious drones and take action against suspected criminal activity, as well as enhancing security by preventing illegal filming behind prison walls.
Prisons minister Edward Argar said: “We are working harder than ever to prevent the smuggling of contraband into our prisons and this is the latest step to keep ahead of the tactics exploited by organised criminals.
“These new anti-drone measures – along with our advanced airport-style X-ray security and drug detection dogs – will crack down on those illicit items that fuel violence behind bars.”
Between 2019 and 2021, 504 drones were sighted, intercepted or seized around prisons in England and Wales, and police and prison staff have worked together to help secure more than 70 convictions since June 2016.
One attempted drone delivery in May 2022 contained more than £35,000 of drugs and mobile phones.
In 2018, seven gang members were jailed after drones were used to deliver around £500,000 worth of drugs to prison cell windows as part of what was thought to be the UK’s biggest ever “drone mail” smuggling plot.