Tribunal Rules: Sussex Police Must Release Gatwick Drone Information

Gatwick drone not small community

The Tribunal decisions are now public in the national archives so I can now reveal that I pursued 3 cases in a 1st Tier Tribunal against the Information Commissioner’s Office who were supporting Sussex Police in their refusal to disclose information about the Gatwick drone incident sought via the Freedom of Information Act.

Sussex Police left it to the last minute to decide not to join the case and left the ICO’s legal team alone to counter me.

I won 2 of the 3 cases. The ICO have 28 days to appeal but I’d be surprised if they do.

Assuming there’s no appeal, Sussex Police will have to release the pretty trivial information I sought regarding the 2018 Gatwick drone incident or they will be in contempt of court.

In the fight, more taxpayers money has been pissed up against the wall to protect the Sussex Police balls-up.

I had a pretty tricky task, given I’ve never fought a court case and I had to prove the public interest and there’s not exactly any guidance for doing that.

I was fighting some despicable arguments, the ICO’s legal team had completely misunderstood the Operation Trebor timeline yet tried to discredit my understanding of it, they went on to essentially argue the UK drone industry is so small it didn’t warrant a public interest. That properly triggered me so I went to town countering that point, I even had the joy of using PwC’s figures to fight that point.

ICO:”The reputational damage to a relatively small community does not outweigh the extremely weighty public interest in maintaining the safety of the Airport for members of the UK public and international visitors.”

I was pleased to note that the Tribunal agreed with me that the Sussex Police narrative has damaged the UK drone industry and that the drone industry is significant enough to warrant an argument for public interest.

Additionally, I made an effort to demonstrate that there had been potential wrongdoing which itself strengthens a public interest argument.

I presented a wealth of evidence, I didn’t keep count but according to the case records I presented 117 pages in total.

I had some moments of laugh-out-loud joy fighting back, I used emails uncovered via FOIA from one of the most senior police officers in England, “secret” information accidentally released by the DfT citing the Secretary of State for Transport, a Tweet by senior civil servant that potentially was a breach of the Official Secret’s Act and I threw the kitchen sink at it.

An important point is some key people in the global drone industry presented letters supporting my knowledge and concerns about Gatwick.

Additionally, I had support even from academics and the media.

Amongst the heros who backed me up in writing were Philip Rowse, Gary Mortimer as sUAS News, Brendan Schulman, Oren Schauble and Simon Fpv Dale as FPV UK.


  • In December 2018, drone sightings caused significant disruption at Gatwick Airport.
  • Ian Hudson submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out if the drone was sighted between 7:00 am and 8:15 am on December 20th, 2018.
  • Sussex Police refused to confirm or deny whether they held this information, citing an exemption to protect ongoing investigations.
  • Hudson appealed this refusal to the Information Commissioner, who upheld the police’s decision.
  • Hudson subsequently appealed to the First-tier Tribunal.

Tribunal  Decision:

  • The First-tier Tribunal ruled in favour of Ian Hudson.
  • The Tribunal found the exemption Sussex Police relied on (section 30(3) of FOIA) does apply to this case, as it relates to an ongoing investigation.
  • However, the Tribunal concluded that the public interest in disclosing the information outweighed the public interest in maintaining the exemption.

Key Reasons for the Tribunal’s Decision:

  • Disclosure of this limited information would not significantly compromise the investigation or Sussex Police’s ability to respond to similar threats.
  • The public has a strong interest in understanding the circumstances of this case, and this disclosure could enhance transparency without harming the investigation.


  • The Sussex Police must disclose whether they hold information about a drone sighting at Gatwick Airport between 7:00 am and 8:15 am on December 20th, 2018.

Time for my bit, (ed) it’s concerning that the responsibility for pursuing this transparency fell to me, an individual, rather than the UK’s alleged national commercial drone body, ARPAS. Their inaction is a missed opportunity to serve the industry they represent.

Well done, Ian! Your perseverance is truly commendable. This victory represents just a single piece of the complex puzzle you’re assembling through your persistent FOIA requests related to the Gatwick drone incident. The truth is out there.

The bigger picture raises important questions. If, as many suspect, the entire incident was a false alarm, thousands of passengers may be entitled to compensation from Gatwick Airport for flight disruptions. This situation bears an unsettling resemblance to the Post Office scandal.

The UK drone world needs to buy Ian a pint

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