19 June 2023

Man fined after drone flight above football stadium caused game to be halted

19 June 2023

A man has been fined more than £3,500 after flying a drone above a football match which caused the game to be halted.

Lewis Franks wept in court as he admitted flying the drone above Chesterfield FC’s Technique Stadium in Derbyshire at 5.20pm on May 7 during the club’s game against Bromley in the National League play-off semi-final.

Referee Scott Simpson took the players off the pitch for several minutes, in line with safety protocols, before the device was seen to land, Derbyshire Police previously said.

More than 9,600 people attended the game, shown live on BT Sport, with the drone flying as low as 6.1 metres above the pitch, North East Derbyshire and Dales Magistrates’ Court in Chesterfield heard on Monday.

Wearing a black suit and tie with a white shirt, Franks, 27, pleaded guilty to charges of flying a drone above assemblies of people, flying beyond visual line of sight, failing to register as a drone operator, and failing to display an operator ID on the drone used by a remote pilot.

He also admitted to driving his partner’s silver Nissan Juke without insurance and failing to stop when police attempted to apprehend him in the Derbyshire town on the same day.

Prosecutor Pardeep Kalyan told the court that when Franks did eventually stop, he told officers: “You stopped me because I have been flying a drone.”

Mr Kalyan said: “The offence is not one that we see on a regular basis but… it may well become a lot more common.

“The match had to be stopped for a short while because the referee saw the drone flying low enough to cause him concern for the safety of the players.”

Footage shown to the court from the BT Sport broadcast showed the referee taking the players off the field midway through the second half, with the score at 1-1.

Franks, a father of two, could not have been jailed for any of the offences, but several other instances of him piloting a drone illegally, committed before the May 7 incidents, were also taken into consideration by magistrates.

David Gittins, mitigating, said it was “a hobby that has gone wrong”.

“He is not being malicious, he is being naive,” he said.

“Going near a sporting event is stupid, it’s naive, but this is not a gentleman who is flying it at eye level. He is being a bit nosey, he is having a look.

“It’s the naivety of someone who has not done their research.”

Chairwoman of the bench of magistrates, Jennifer Wood, opened her sentencing remarks with the words: “Difficult one, this.”

She later said: “It’s not my job to lecture you. You are not a criminal for this – we have seen far worse – but it was dangerous.

“It seems a shame that you are not going to fly your drone again. I would say, license it, learn how to fly it properly and get the enjoyment out of it that you clearly want.”

She added: “We’ve been fair with you, and from my perspective, it’s been very interesting.

“It’s fun for you and we get why, but you have to be properly trained and have to be properly licensed.”

Franks, of Allsops Place, Chesterfield, was fined £640 and given six penalty points for driving without insurance, £426 for failing to stop, £200 for failing to register as a drone operator, £200 for failing to display an operator ID, £500 for flying above assemblies of people and £500 for flying beyond the visual line of sight.

He was also ordered to pay a £986 victim surcharge and £85 costs.

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