Fears that drones are being used to scope out properties for burglaries in Norfolk as calls to police rise sharply

General view of a Phantom 2 drone in flight. Picture Andrew Matthews.

General view of a Phantom 2 drone in flight. Picture Andrew Matthews. - Credit: PA

The number of calls to police about drones has rocketed with concerns from members of the public that the aircrafts are being used to help criminals commit burglaries.

In 2016 Norfolk Constabulary received 168 calls in relation to drones, a huge jump from 42 reports in 2015 and just seven in 2014.

The figures in the county, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, include rows between neighbours, damage to properties and concerns over privacy.

But one of the most common concerns from members of the public was that drones were being used to 'scope out' properties for burglaries.

In March 2016 the force received a call in relation to a drone hovering over a house on two mornings. The caller believed that it was 'scoping property' in order to commit a burglary.

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Officers visited the property to reassure the caller and logged the incident for future reference.

There was a similar call a month later where a caller was concerned that a drone was checking out his property and vehicles and later that month there was a another call where someone was concerned about a low flying drone and burglaries in the area.

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In Suffolk police received 74 calls in 2016 and in Cambridgeshire officers were called 111 times in relation to drones.

Renate Samson, chief executive of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said people are 'rightly anxious' about drone technology as it is 'often impossible' to know where the devices have come from and who is controlling them.

She said: 'If drones are going to continue to be used for work and pleasure, it is absolutely critical that their use is regulated, users are registered and citizens know who to raise concern with to guarantee their complaints are addressed.'

Available for as little as £30 and often boasting built-in cameras, sales of the gadgets have risen sharply in recent years.

Nationally police forces recorded 3,456 incidents last year, equivalent to nearly 10 every day. This was almost triple the 2015 figure of 1,237 and more than 12 times the 2014 tally of 283.

Drone code lays out restrictions on flights

Drone users must follow a number of restrictions when using the gadgets.

In November, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a website to publish a revised code of conduct, labelled the Drone Code.

The rules say the devices must not be flown:

• Above 400ft (120m)

• Where you cannot see them

• Near aircraft, airports or airfields

• Within 150ft (50m) of people or property

• Over crowds and built-up areas;

• Within 500ft (150m) horizontally of crowds and built-up areas.

Department for Transport officials are analysing feedback from a recent consultation into new measures to enhance drone safety.

The proposals being considered include:

• A new criminal offence for misuse of drones

• Mandatory registration of new drones

• Tougher penalties for illegal flying near no-fly zones such as airports and prisons

• New signs for no-fly zones

• Making drones electronically identifiable so the owner's details can be passed to police if they are spotted breaking the law.

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