Charges dropped against drone duo

David Nelson, left, and Michael Riley at Falkirk Sheriff Court
David Nelson, left, and Michael Riley at Falkirk Sheriff Court

Two drone pilots who stood accused of flying an “unmanned surveillance aircraft” over Falkirk’s annual fireworks display walked free from court today.

David Nelson (30), of Westquarter, and Michael Riley (29), of Dunfermline, claimed a “victory for common sense”.

The men both faced a single charge of breaching an Air Navigation Order of the Civil Aviation Act by flying their drone within 150 metres of a congested area and within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1000 people at the organised Bonfire Night display in Callendar Park on November 5 last year.

The pair were due to face summary trial at Falkirk Sheriff Court, having initially pled not guilty in March.

But when they turned up for the hearing today they were told the case was being disposed of by means of a “warning letter”, with prosecutors deciding to treat the charges as “not called” – effectively dropping them.

A Crown Office spokesman said “It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review and, after full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Procurator Fiscal decided there should be no further criminal proceedings and the case would be more appropriately dealt with by way of an alternative to prosecution.”

Outside court, Mr Riley said it was a “sensible outcome”.

He said: “They never had enough evidence against us. We fly all the time, and we always fly within the confines of the law. It’s just a hobby for us. We use sophisticated drones, that hook up to satellites.

“We fly in the park all the time, and we’d never put anyone in danger.”

Mr Nelson added: “We’re just glad it’s over.”

The Civil Aviation Authority said: “A person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft over or within 150 metres of any congested area, over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1000 persons, or within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.”