The Metropolitan Police can reportedly listen into people's phone calls using an unmanned spy plane.
An investigation has shown that a mysterious aircraft was used on several occasions last year while there have been suspicions for years about the Met’s use of the plane.
In 2014, plane spotters noticed a flight path showing an unmarked Cessna F406 aircraft circling London at 10,000 feet before suddenly vanishing from tracking sites.
The Mirror reported that it was a top secret spy plane that was capable of intercepting mobile phone calls and listening in on people’s conversations, and the force refused to deny the claim.
It was identified as being a twin-engine Cessna F406 with the registration G-BVJT, while other reports claimed that a second Cessna with the tail sign G-UMMI had also been seen over the capital.
The police refused to confirm or deny that the two planes cost £3m a year and were used to monitor mobile phone calls, leading to Lib Dems posing the questions to then-mayor Boris Johnson.
He refused to provide answers, citing "security reasons".
Now an investigation by MyLondon has revealed that the G-BVJT Cessna was used at least five times last year, sparking renewed concerns among privacy campaigners over the Met’s use of surveillance aircraft and drones.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request from MyLondon, the Met confirmed the use of unmanned drones over the capital for surveillance purposes.
The force said: “We can confirm the Met still uses UAVs/unmanned aerial surveillance for overt use purposes, and will have done so in the past two years.
“However, for operational reasons, we do not discuss the number of these and what specific makes or models we may use, either.”
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Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told Lib Dem London Assembly Caroline Pidgeon that the Met is “utilising thermal camera capabilities for deployment where heat-seeking properties are required, for example searching for missing persons or identification of premises with heat anomalies, such as cannabis farms, taking photographs of crime scenes, providing aerial support for pre-planned and reactive operations; and surveying premises and providing live footage of operational deployments to assist command decision making”.
He also told the Green Party's Sian Berry that police drones were not used to “monitor gatherings of Londoners outside of protest or public order events” – leaving open the possibility that unmanned aircraft have been used to monitor protests.
Ms Pidgeon said she accepted that the police needed to maintain some degree of secrecy over specific aspects of surveillance work.
But she added: "The Met should be more open in explaining why the force feels it is necessary to use them.”
The Metropolitan Police have been contacted for comment.
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