A UK man has become the first person in the country convicted of drone crime. Nigel Wilson, of Nottingham in the East Midlands, was busted for the innocuous-sounding crime of “illegally flying drones over buildings and congested areas.” But the dry language of the official conviction hides some colorful crimes.
Wilson is not allowed to “purchase, own, or fly any drones nor assist any other person in using drones for the next two years.” What did he do to attract this Criminal Behaviour Order, along with a fine and costs totaling £2,400? He flew camera-loaded drones over soccer stadiums on match days, filming the game and later posting the footage to YouTube.
“In addition to flying drones over crowds and stadia at various football matches, officers also discovered that Wilson had been flying drones over or near various buildings in London, including the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, HMS Belfast, and the Shard,” says the Metropolitan Police report.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then buzzed officers mounted on horseback. These officers, stationed for crowd management, “struggled to regain control as the horses reared, and narrowly avoided hitting members of the public walking nearby.”
The filming of the matches wasn’t the problem, though. Wilson was prosecuted because he flew the drones out of his own line of sight (defined as 400 feet vertically and a third of a mile horizontally), over congested areas, and near buildings and people. He also failed to get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority, which is required when drones are to be used for paid work. Frankly, given the extent of the rules, it seems that the only place to fly a drone legally in the U.K. is in an empty field.
These kinds of legal precedents will become more important as drones get more popular, both for commercial and personal use. It seems draconian, but we’ve already seen what happens when a new kind of vehicle is allowed to spread unchecked, and with barely any limitations on where it can go. Those vehicles are cars, and look what a mess they caused.