Drone firm boss rebuilds his life after drugs conviction

Kieran Hope, Managing Director of Air Control Entech.
Kieran Hope, Managing Director of Air Control Entech.

An Aberdeen man who spent nine months in prison after getting mixed up with drug dealers is determined to make his second chance count.

Kieran Hope said his drone inspection firm is ready to soar after securing fresh funding and new premises late last year.

Air Control Entech (ACE) is putting the finishing touches to a research and development project with the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) and is gearing up for field trials.

ACE has 10 employees at its base in Bridge of Don and managing director Mr Hope is confident of hiring another 15 by the end of 2019.

Mr Hope, 29, has had to work harder than most to prove to potential investors, clients and technology development partners that he can be trusted.

Many don’t think he deserves a second chance.

He served nine months of a three year sentence in HMP Grampian after being found guilty of concern in the supply of drugs in 2014.

About £300,000 worth of cocaine was found a year earlier during a police raid at the Aberdeen city centre flat he was renting.

Mr Hope maintains that the drugs were not his.

The businessman said he did not expect to receive a sentence and was “shocked” by the outcome.

But he decided not to appeal after being advised that it would be difficult to prove he was unaware that the drugs were in the flat.

In a worst case scenario, his sentence could be increased.

Mr Hope said: “I thought about appealing for a long time, but decided it would be better just to get my head down, get on with it and get back out.”

Mr Hope did acknowledge that he was in with the “wrong crowd”.

Prison gave him time to reflect on some “bad decisions” and Mr Hope feels he emerged a more reserved, quiet person.

“It’s very lonely inside when you’re an outgoing person like me,” he said. “But it’s just a case of cracking on.

“I was 22 or 23 at the time. I was still very immature. Being inside gives you a lot of time and it has spurred me on to do what I’m doing now.

“You can learn from the experience and come out the other side a better person, or you can fall into the trap of being in and out of prison for the rest of your life.”

Mr Hope moved to open prison at the end of 2014 and joined a rehabilitation programme which allowed him to go out and work.

The company which initially took on Mr Hope gave him a full-time role on his release from prison.

Another job followed before Mr Hope founded ACE in December 2016.

ACE was one of the first companies to be supported by the OGTC.

The centre, backed by £180 million worth of City Region Deal funds, was set up at the beginning of 2017 to help companies develop technology for lowering the cost of oil and gas production.

Mr Hope said he was honest with the OGTC about his past from day one.

“I treat people the way I like to be treated,” he said. “Being up front and honest is the right way to do that.

“The OGTC was really good about it. A lot of people think you do not deserve a second chance, so it’s a case of proving yourself, and that’s challenging.”

He has taken the same up-front approach with all his employees and supporters.

“All my staff members know about it and have no issue with it,” he said. “It’s there for everyone to go and look at on the internet.

“We are a small, tight-knit group at ACE, so a lack of transparency would cause problems.”

Mr Hope is realistic enough to know that his conviction will have damaged his reputation.

It probably explains why some meetings get mysteriously cancelled without explanation and are never rescheduled.

“There will be people who don’t want to work with me, but that’s their choice,” he said. “It just makes me more determined to succeed.

“I’ve always said that if it ever becomes such an issue, I will stand down as a director, but I think we’ve succeeded, so far.

“Ten employees and their families rely on me so there’s a lot of pressure.

“I’ve had to prove myself and take my second chance, no doubt about it. I’ve had to prove I’m the person I want to be.

“I do not want to let other people down. The OGTC believed in me and so have investors and clients.

“Our involvement with the OGTC has been a massive validation. To have the centre’s name attached to ACE has been huge.

“Because we’ve got their trust, it feels like operators trust you equally.”

Mr Hope said that, in many ways, he is still coming to terms with what happened in 2014, but thinks his story could give other people a boost.

He added: “If you mess up, it does not mean your life is over. You can come back if you work hard and are honest.”

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