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Man pleads guilty to shining laser at Gatwick-bound aircraft
12:06pm Friday 11th January 2013 in Local News
A man who shone a laser at an aircraft approaching Gatwick Airport to dazzle or distract its pilot, has been fined.
Paul Bennett, 25, of King George Avenue, East Grinstead, pleaded guilty at Crawley Magistrates' Court to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.
The court heard Bennett had shone the laser at the aircraft on the evening of Sunday, October 14, last year.
The police were called to say a pilot had been targeted with a laser at about 9.35pm that night, and a helicopter from the National Police Air Support was sent to the area.
It too was targeted by a laser. The crew onboard were able to pinpoint the laser as being shone from an address in King George Avenue, East Grinstead.
Bennett pleaded guilty to the offence and appearing at Crawley Magistrates' Court on Thursday, January 3, was fined £350.
He was also ordered to pay £85 costs and a victim surcharge of £35.
Inspector Mark Callaghan of Gatwick Police said: "Directing laser devices towards aircraft in flight to dazzle or distract the pilot is a criminal offence as it represents a considerable threat to the lives of the people onboard and on the ground.”
Insp Callaghan said: "This is just one of a number of successful prosecutions the police has brought to court. “Significant sanctions have been imposed in some cases, including jail terms.”
He added: "These are not toys and we would appeal to parents to be aware of the dangers lasers pose and discourage their children from using them."
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reported that there were 1,910 reports of laser incidents against aircraft in 2011 in the UK. During the same period in Sussex there were 30 reported incidents against aircraft approaching Gatwick.
The figures for 2012 are currently being compiled by the CAA, but Sussex Police said they had received five reports of laser pens being pointed at planes last year.
Last week Crawley MP Henry Smith called for laser pens, a piece of equipment used in offices across the country, to be reclassified as an offensive weapon. Mr Smith said hundreds of lives were put at risk by thugs shining laser pens in the eyes of pilots operating from Gatwick. At Home Office questions in the House of Commons, he said: “Can you join with me in congratulating Sussex Police in the work they have been doing to tackle laser pen attacks on aircraft operating from Gatwick Airport - attacks which can potentially endanger hundreds of lives in the air and on the ground?”
Home Office minister James Brokenshire replied that they had no plans to classify lasers as offensive weapons, but said: “We are determined to see that best practice is shared between forces.”