Military-style spy planes ‘to be used to target civilians in the UK’

Unmanned drones similar to those used in Afghanistan are set to be used in Britain to spy on drivers, campaigners, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, it was revealed today.

A group of government agencies led by Kent Police has commissioned arms manufacturer BAE systems to adapt military-style planes for civilian use.

The consortium aims to have the drones operating in British skies in time for the 2012 Olympics.

The revelations are likely to prompt ‘Big Brother’ accusations from civil libertarians.

According to a report published in the Guardian, a prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors will take to the skies for test flights later this year.

BAE Systems and Kent police reportedly claim that the drones would ‘greatly extend’ the government’s surveillance capacity and ‘revolutionise policing.’

The Civil Aviation Authority is currently reluctant to license UAVs in normal airspace because of the risk of collisions with other aircraft, but adequate ‘sense and avoid’ systems for drones are only a few years away.

Previously, Kent police have said the drone scheme was intended for use over the English Channel to monitor shipping and detect immigrants crossing from France.

However reports suggest their use could be far more widespread – including detecting theft from cash machines, preventing theft of tractors and monitoring antisocial driving.

The consortium also suggested the drones could be used by councils to combat ‘fly-posting, fly-tipping, abandoned vehicles, abnormal loads, waste management’.

Five other police forces have signed up to the scheme, which could pave the way for countrywide adoption of the technology for surveillance, monitoring and evidence gathering.

The consortium’s mission is to introduce the drones ‘into the routine work of the police, border authorities and other government agencies,’ according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

Kent police’s assistant chief constable, Allyn Thomas, reportedly lobbied the CAA last year in support of the drones, which he said would be useful’ in the policing of major events, whether they be protests or the Olympics’.

BAE drones are programmed to take off and land on their own, stay airborne for up to 15 hours and reach heights of 20,000ft, making them invisible from the ground.