The wrongly accused couple who were held by police and released without charge over the Gatwick drone incident have hit out at “disgusting” media coverage of their arrest and said they are receiving medical care.
Sussex Police held Paul Gait, 47, and Elaine Kirk, 54, for 36 hours of questioning in relation to drone flights over Gatwick Airport last week that grounded the transport hub.
The police released a statement to the media after arresting the Crawley couple but did not provide their names to the press. The Telegraph was the first paper to reveal their identities.
The couple were pictured on the front pages of several national newspapers and news websites on Sunday 23 December, including the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Express and Sunday People.
The Mail on Sunday splash headline read: “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?”
By lunchtime on Sunday the couple were released without charge and eliminated from Sussex Police enquiries into the drone incident.
Several Monday newspaper front pages, including those of the Daily Mail and the Mirror, criticised police handling of the Gatwick drone crisis.
Speaking outside the couple’s home on Christmas Eve, Gait said: “As you can probably imagine, we are feeling completely violated.
“Our home has been searched and our privacy and identity completely exposed. Our names, photos and other personal information have been broadcast throughout the world.
“We are deeply distressed, as are our family and friends, and we are currently receiving medical care.
“The way we were initially perceived was disgusting, although those who knew us didn’t doubt us for a second.
“Post-release without charge or further action, we are totally overwhelmed by the support we have received from people all over the world and would like to thank every single one who has done that.
“We would ask that the press please respect our privacy and leave us to try and get through Christmas as best we can. No further comments will be made at this time.”
The couple arrested and then cleared by police over the drone disruption at Gatwick airport say they feel "completely violated" and are receiving medical care
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 24, 2018
A Mail on Sunday spokesperson declined to comment on its front page when approached earlier this week, but Press Gazette understands the newspaper stands by its coverage because the headline was posed as a question and the article did not say the couple were guilty.
The following day, the Daily Mail dubbed police “clueless” on its front page and criticised the force for holding the innocent couple.
The Daily Mirror used its Monday front page to dub the Gatwick drone incident “shambolic”, focusing on the “freed couple’s nightmare” and the police admission that a drone may not have been the cause of chaos at the airport.
The Times front page on Christmas Eve described the situation as a “farce”.
An Independent Press Standards Organisation spokesperson said the regulator, which oversees the Sunday newspapers that pictured the couple on their front pages, had received fewer than 30 complaints in relation to news coverage of the couple.
However, it has led to MPs repeating calls for a “Cliff’s Law” to stop suspects being named before being charged.
Conservative MP Anna Soubry argued the pair “should not have been named in the media” and called for a new law that would make it a criminal offence to name suspects before charge “unless in the interests of justice”.
Soubry also urged people to support the Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill put forward by Lord Brian Paddick, which would outlaw the publication of some information about arrested suspects before they were charged.
Paddick’s bill would permit the publication of that information before charges under set circumstances.
Conservative MP and Justice Select Committee chair Bob Neill said he “looked forward” to pursuing the bill with Soubry in 2019.
Picture: Sky News