‘Stupid’ laser pen incident forced police helicopter pilot to take evasive action over Sunderland

A police helicopter in action.
A police helicopter in action.
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A DISTRICT judge expressed his regret he could only fine a yob who shone a laser pen at a police helicopter – which could have had dire consequences for both the aircraft and its crew.

District judge Roger Elsey, sitting at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court, described Gavin Brace’s behaviour on August 17 as “stupid”.

The 25-year-old pointed a green laser at the helicopter, which had been called to an incident in Ryhope, prosecutor Janice Bellamy said.

The light was traced to his home in Lanivet Close but Brace told police he wanted to see if his laser pen could reach that far, claiming he didn’t realise the dangers involved.

The court heard the helicopter was being flown by a commercial pilot on behalf on Northumbria Police with two officers on board.

In a statement, the pilot said he saw a flickering effect in his peripheral vision, forcing him to position the helicopter away from the light.

“Had I not taken this action, my vision could have been permanently impaired and it would have made it difficult to read the instruments,” his statement read.

Brace pleaded guilty to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.

Ms Bellamy said a more serious charge could not be brought as the pilot managed to keep control of the helicopter. “Luckily for you, the skill of the pilot prevented a serious accident,” district judge Elsey told him.

“Your behaviour was not only very stupid, it was also deliberate. I don’t understand how a man who can hold down a full-time job, as you do, can behave with such ignorance.

“I regret that the offence you are charged with can only be punished with a fine, many people will feel that is inadequate.”

Brace was fined £250.

Jason Smith, mitigating, said “Mr Brace had been on holiday to Egypt, and had attended a stargazing night where laser pens were used to identify different constellations. He purchased one of these thinking he could show his friends when he got home. On the night in question, he and his brother were in the house. They heard a noise outside, and the defendant said if you follow the light I’ll show you where it is, not realising the net effect it would have on the people inside.

“He didn’t realise the ramifications of it. There was no malicious intent 
to what he now know was a stupid act.”

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “Anyone shining a laser or light at an aircraft should be aware they are not only causing significant danger to pilots and passengers but they 
are also committing a criminal offence.”