Police are being flooded with reports about drones after a dramatic surge in incidents sparked by the devices, an investigation reveals.
The flying gadgets are at the centre of thousands of episodes registered by forces, including rows between neighbours, prison smuggling, burglary “scoping” exercises, mid-air near misses and snooping fears.
Figures show the number of incidents logged by police around the country rocketed between 2014 and 2016.
Last year, forces recorded 3,456 incidents, 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.
The true total is likely to be higher as full data was not available for all forces in the UK.
The findings, based on Freedom of Information requests, coincide with a jump in the popularity of the remote-controlled devices. Available for as little as £30 and often boasting built-in cameras, sales of the gadgets have risen sharply in recent years.
Police forces in the UK were asked for data on incidents they recorded involving drones in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
There were consecutive year-on-year rises in most areas and in some cases the tallies soared from only a handful to three-figure totals.
Sussex Police recorded the highest number of drone-related incidents last year, with 240, followed by Greater Manchester at 225.
Records of incidents provided by some constabularies reveal the devices are at the centre of a wide range of reports, including:
• Disputes between neighbours. Police were alerted to arguments and threats of violence between residents, including one in which a man reported that he suspected his neighbour was flying a drone “just to annoy him”.
• Nuisance drones. In one case a man threatened to shoot down an “annoying” drone with an air rifle.
• Prison smuggling. Drones have been used to drop drugs and other contraband into prison grounds. In one instance, substances previously known as “legal highs” were flown into a jail.
• Fears of spying. In a number of cases, members of the public contacted their local force to raise concerns that drones were being used for snooping. In one instance, a device was said to have been flown over a garden repeatedly while girls were sunbathing.
Professor David H Dunn, of Birmingham University, said people face a “major challenge” in maintaining their privacy at home because of the proliferation of drones.
He said: “Previously you had a hedge, you had a wall and you could do whatever you wanted in your garden without people disturbing you. That has changed because of drones.
“Anecdotally I’ve heard that burglars using drones is a big issue for police forces.
“People are using them to fly behind properties to see if the lights are on, to see what sort of French windows they have or whether there are windows open.”
Drone users must follow restrictions on flying them.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drones, said: “As awareness of what drones are and what they can do continues to grow, police forces have seen increases in concerns and reports by the public.
“We have to balance the growth of this technology by ensuring that the public are aware of the strong regulatory framework and detailed user guidance that is available relating to drone use.”