Criminals 'using drones' to smuggle drugs into Scottish prisons

HMP Edinburgh has had the most recorded incidents of drones being detected, totalling 11 since 2021.

Criminals ‘using drones’ to smuggle drugs into Scottish prisons iStock

Criminals are increasingly using drones in their latest ploy to smuggle drugs and phones into Scotland’s prisons, a freedom of information request has revealed.

The number of drones being flown into jail grounds has soared recently – with nine unauthorised devices detected by prison bosses in the last three months alone, figures obtained by 1919 magazine reveal.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it is using “all technological and intelligence tools available” to tackle the issue of drugs being brought into the estate.

However, the figures have revealed a rising trend of the devices being used.

HMP Edinburgh has had the most recorded incidents of drones being detected, totalling 11 since 2021.

HMP Perth ranks the second highest, with five incidents since 2018.

There has been a particularly sharp rise since 2021, following the introduction of a policy to photocopy prisoners’ mail to stop inmates receiving psychoactive substances which were being sprayed onto the pieces of paper.

Between August 2020 and July 2021, almost 9,000 items of mail sent into Scottish jails tested positive for an illegal drug.

But since the policy of photocopying mail was introduced in December 2021, the number of drug-related incidents fell dramatically, from 305 in the November of that year to 131 the following month.

This means criminals are exploring new ways of smuggling drugs into prisons.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Jamie Greene said: “It is clear criminals are now using drones to try and smuggle dangerous drugs and contraband into the prison estate.

“Thanks to the Scottish Conservatives we forced an end to drug soaked mail and post getting into cells, but organised gangs will stop at nothing to infiltrate prisons.

“SNP ministers cannot make the same mistakes they did when they dithered and delayed over our demands to stop the postal peddling of drugs. They must take action to stop drones simply taking over the task.

“The new Justice Secretary has inherited a justice sector in crisis. She must get on top of this issue and that starts with properly tackling serious crime and finally investing in the criminal justice sector.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We continue to support the Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland’s joint efforts to prevent the supply of illegal drugs.

“SPS continues to work tirelessly to adapt its security measures to prevent, detect and deter the introduction of contraband in prisons.”

An SPS spokesperson said: “While we cannot discuss covert tactics, SPS uses all technological and intelligence tools available to tackle the harm caused by illicit substances entering our establishments.

“We work with Police Scotland, and other partners, to take action against those who attempt to breach our security, via drones or by other means.

“These efforts have led to a significant reduction in drug take incidents in our establishments, and as a result, the harm caused to the health and wellbeing of those in our care.”

Inspector Allan Barnstaple, Aviation Safety and Security Unit, told 1919: “Police Scotland are aware of people using drones to convey items into prisons and we are working closely with the Scottish Prison Service to tackle the use of drones for criminality.

“Drones must be operated in accordance with the Civil Aviation Authority regulations.

“Police Scotland will thoroughly investigate all reports of drones being operated illegally.”

The FOI with data for 2022 and 2023 is available here, which details contents of the drones including drugs and PCDs. Previous data for 2018 to 2021 is available here.

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