Police have warned that flying unmanned drones over crowds or near landmark buildings is illegal.
The warning was issued amid fears that the new “must have” aerial gadgets was being used to harass and spy on people.
It follows a surge in footage published on YouTube taken from drones flying over the London Eye, Tower Bridge and other attractions. One video showed an ascent to the top of the Shard.
Chief Inspector Nick Aldworth, of the Met’s Specialist Operations unit, urged people not to fly drones in central London. He told the Evening Standard: “I compare them to cars. They are perfectly legal to own but it is very easy to break the laws when you are driving.
“Our concern is that in the New Year we will see a lot of these things being flown in London and there is a potential for people to wander into criminal territory. We also recognise that people will use these devices for criminal purposes and we want to send them a message too.”
Remote–controlled drones, or “unmanned aerial vehicles”, which can record video and still images, can be bought for as little as £30 and stores reported a 24 per cent surge in sales before Christmas.
It is illegal to fly them within 150 metres of any congested area, or within 50 metres of buildings not owned by their operator. There are also exclusion areas around airports.
However, this summer, a drone was flown over shoppers at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London, leaving several people “distressed”.
Last month, a drone nearly collided with a passenger jet near Heathrow Airport. A drone also came close to a passenger jet at Southend airport earlier in the year.
Mr Aldworth said that anyone using a drone in Central London would be committing an offence.
“Do not fly them over football or other stadiums and certainly do not fly them anywhere near airports,” he added. “The potential is there for a major incident.”
Tony Porter, an independent watchdog in the CCTV sector, has warned that drones equipped with cameras pose an “escalating” risk to privacy and that privacy complaints were expected to surge over the few months after Christmas.
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said: “There will be thousands of new users after Christmas who may never have flown any kind of remotely controlled device before and they may not be aware of what the rules are.
“We want to encourage people to use common sense and not fly these devices anywhere that could interfere with aircraft or other vehicles.”