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Company is considering High Court action to seek protection for employees after gardaí arrest drone operator who filmed races at Punchestown

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James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

James Denton arriving at Naas District Court.

James Denton arriving at Naas District Court.

Owner of Foxfly, Mick McCool says all his drone operator are fully licensed

Owner of Foxfly, Mick McCool says all his drone operator are fully licensed

James Denton was using the drone from a van at the racecourse

James Denton was using the drone from a van at the racecourse

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James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

A UK company whose employee was arrested this week using a drone to observe a horse race at Punchestown now says it is considering its legal options - including possible High Court action 'seeking protection for its employees'.

The UK-based media company, Foxfly Ltd, say they use drones to observe races at tracks across the UK and Ireland.

The footage provides the company with a one- to two-second advantage over live broadcasts by traditional broadcasters - giving the company what it describes as a 'slight advantage' over broadcast viewers during 'in-race' betting.

On Monday, one of the company's employees, James Denton, was arrested after gardaí responded to a complaint of drones flying near Punchestown Racecourse in Kildare.

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James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

James Denton has been charged with breaching Covid restrictions while using a drone.

Mr Denton, is currently on bail and has to remain in Ireland for two weeks, pending the hearing of his case on February 2 when he will face two charges of being in breach of travel restrictions and failing to comply with a garda's direction on January 18, 2021. Both charges are under temporary Covid-19 restrictions of the Health Act.

Foxfly, which has already lodged a complaint with GSOC over the seizure of €25,000 worth of drone equipment by Kildare gardaí last March, says it believes it is not breaking any law.

Operators

Company owner Mick McCool told the Sunday World that all of Foxfly's drone operators are fully licensed, that they comply with all relevant regulations covering the use of drones by observing the races in non-built up areas located up to a mile away

He said that the company's media status should mean their employees are exempt from the Covid-19 regulations currently in effect here.

"What we are doing primarily is catering for professional gamblers," Mr McCool told the Sunday World. "We have 15 people working for us from a town in middle England.

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Owner of Foxfly, Mick McCool says all his drone operator are fully licensed

Owner of Foxfly, Mick McCool says all his drone operator are fully licensed

Owner of Foxfly, Mick McCool says all his drone operator are fully licensed

"I've been going to the race-course in Naas for the bones of 12 years and what I would normally do is stand on the side with a pair of binoculars or a video camera and watch the race, and using algorithmic software and an automatic betting interface, we would bet onto the Betfair exchange.

"That's what we do for a living.

"So this is in-race betting.

"We have already fought a case in England over the same thing that is now happening to us in Ireland.

"It cost us over stg£250,000 but we won the case.

"We don't want to turn the public against us, so as a matter of course we consult lawful procedure in any country we are operating in.

"And whenever we go to check anything we go to sites like the Citizens' Advice Centre and it says in there that Level-5 restrictions are in place now in Ireland until January 31.

"Stay at home except for work or education or other essential reasons.

"It says work from home unless your work is an essential service that cannot be done from home.

"Well, James can't make money staying at home so he's got to go out to work."

Restrictions

Mr McCool also said the company believes its employees may be exempt from the restrictions on the basis the company is registered with the UK company register as a media company and its drone operators are producing digital content.

Under Section 31a, which allows for the temporary restrictions currently in force, an exemption is provided for the production of digital or other electronic content and the broadcast or publication of this to the public or a portion of the public.

During the accused James Denton's court appearance on Tuesday, Gda Michael Gohrey, of Naas Garda Station, said he was called to Punchestown Upper at 1.50pm on Monday after receiving reports of two males flying drones over a private race meeting nearby.

The two men, he said, were sitting in a Ford Transit van which had a sticker reading 'drones in operation'.

Gda Gohrey said Mr Denton informed him that he travels to different race meetings around the country to record the races online using drones.

"Upon further checks through Pulse, I found that Mr Denton had been in contact with gardaí numerous times since March 2020 in various different districts," Gda Gohrey told the court.

The garda said the other man left the area but that the accused allegedly failed to do so when requested to by gardaí.

Presiding Judge Desmond Zaidan enquired if the location where Mr Denton was arrested is more than 5km from the hotel he was residing at.

Sgt Jim Kelly stated that, whether it was within the 5km or not, gardaí maintain he was not providing an essential service or exercising while outside his place of residence and that this was in contravention of the Health Act.

A solicitor was assigned to Mr Denton, who said his client would question the motivation for this prosecution and that there was a bigger picture objecting to the type of work he does.

The court heard Mr Denton, who has shares in a company, is tested regularly in the UK before travelling to Ireland with the tests showing that he is "Covid free".

Counsel said that he was going about his work and not engaging with large groups of people, and that the prosecution was "motivated by other interests".

There was no Garda objection to bail on the grounds that Mr Denton was willing to abide by certain conditions.

Racecourses

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board this week said it remains committed to combatting the use of unauthorised drones at racecourses and will continue to work alongside the gardaí following an incident at Punchestown on Monday that resulted in Mr Denton being arrested.

An IHRB spokesperson told the Racing Post: "All drone sightings are reported to gardaí; they are usually operated from off site and there are often times we cannot identify where the drone is operated from.

"The use of drones over sporting events without a licence is not permitted under legislation and the IHRB and the racecourses will continue to work with the gardaí and other relevant bodies to try and deal with this issue."

Punchestown chief executive, Conor O'Neill believes the issue of drones filming fixtures at Irish tracks has been going on for a number of years and that the country's legislation for policing such matters has not been able to keep up with drone technology.

"Unfortunately, it's an issue that's widespread across the country at every racecourse effectively and it's been going on for quite a time," he told local radio station KFM.

"Due to current legislation, the gardaí haven't got the law on their side in order to be able to take the necessary action. The Covid-19 restrictions are the only law that they can prosecute them on. In fairness to [Superintendent] Oliver Henry and his team at Naas Garda Station, they've been proactive on this."

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