Man jailed for targeting police helicopter with laser

A MAN has been jailed for shining a laser pen at a police helicopter and endangering its crew and people on the ground.

Alexander Nicholls was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on Monday after admitting a crime which magistrates said could have had a ‘catastrophic’ effect.

The incident is part of a growing pattern of similar crimes, with the Crown Prosecution Service saying the targeting of aircraft has become ‘increasingly prevalent’ in and around Weston.

The helicopter had been deployed at 1.45am on May 12 after reports that a vehicle had been stolen in central Weston.

It arrived at about 2am, and was hovering above the town at about 1,000ft.

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Jane Cooper, prosecuting, said Nicholls, aged 23, had been in his home in Clifton Road, ‘trying to find aircraft’ with the laser pen, which had a blue beam.

He saw a bright flash, which turned out to be the helicopter, before turning the beam on it for about six minutes.

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Ms Cooper said the helicopter’s cockpit had been illuminated by the beam, not allowing the crew to use their flight instruments.

The beam also hit one of the pilot’s eyes, but the captain eventually managed to move the craft away from the light while he talked police officers to Nicholls’ address.

On arrival, officers found he had hidden the pen in an airing cupboard.

At Monday’s hearing Nicholls pleaded guilty to one count of recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or people in an aircraft.

Ms Cooper told the court that it was just one incident where someone had shone a laser pen at aircraft in the Weston area.

She said: “It is increasingly prevalent in Weston, with people targeting aircraft on their way to Bristol Airport.”

Sue Baker, defending, described Nicholls as ‘a complex gentleman’ who had never meant to intentionally endanger the aircraft or dazzle its pilot.

But, sentencing him to six months in jail, magistrates said that the incident was so serious a prison term was the only option.

Chair of the bench Anna Blackmore said the sentence should act as ‘a deterrent’, adding: “Our view is that your actions endangered the pilot and crew of the helicopter and people on the ground.

“The result could well have been catastrophic.”

So far this year there have been 31 reported laser hits against aircraft in Avon and Somerset, compared to 26 for the same period last year.

Superintendent Ian Smith of Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s Operations Unit said: “Anyone who shines a laser at an aircraft performs a dangerous and reckless act.

“When a laser is directed at any aircraft it puts life at risk and in the case of the police helicopter hinders the apprehension of offenders and delays the investigation of crime.”

A spokesman for Bristol Airport said: “The growing number of incidents of this nature at airports across the UK is a concern for all involved in aviation.

“Safety is of paramount importance, and at Bristol Airport we take any incident with the potential to endanger aircraft extremely seriously.

“We work closely with air traffic control to ensure any incidents are reported immediately, enabling the police to pinpoint the location of the offence and take action against those responsible.”

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