Surrey Police has warned of potentially “catastrophic” consequences amid a massive rise in incidents involving laser pens.
The Force has reported a 270% increase in incidents of misuse of laser pens around Surrey over the last six months, compared to the same time last year.
The Force last week issued a warning of the dangers of laser pen misuse following what it called “a significant rise in offences involving people deliberately pointing the devices at other members of the public or vehicles.”
In a statement, the Force said: “Of particular concern is an increase in laser attacks specifically aimed at aircraft in East Surrey, in the area adjacent to Gatwick Airport.”
Chief Superintendent Charlie Doyle warned such laser attacks could lead to a catastrophe.
Chief Supt Doyle said: “People using these pens may think it's an innocent prank, but the potential effect on an aircraft on take-off, or coming in for landing, could be catastrophic."
In August 2009, a 21-year-old woman from Feltham was handed a six-month suspended jail sentence after shining a powerful laser into the cockpit of the Surrey Police helicopter.
The chopper had been flying over Staines, responding to a call-out.
Chief Supt Doyle vowed: "Surrey Police will deal robustly with any incident involving laser lights, whether it is an assault on another member of the public, or a device being pointed at a vehicle.”
He said: “Laser pen owners should also be aware that Surrey Police's Collision Investigation Unit can pursue a manslaughter charge if it is found that a fatal or life-changing injury collision is due to the use of a laser light.
“All offences have a power of arrest and could result in a term of imprisonment.”
He appealed for the public's help in reporting incidents or suspicious behaviour.
The increase in offences in Surrey is much in line with the problem nationally. In March this year, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that laser attacks on aircraft had increased from 27 in 2007 to over 1,400 in 2010.
The increase across Surrey reflects a national increase in attacks on people or premises of 150%, attacks on moving vehicles of 300%, and on aircraft in flight of 600%.
Under legislation, the Air Navigation Order 2009 outlines two offences - directing or shining any light at any aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of the aircraft, and recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person therein.
The former offence could result in a fine up to £2,500, and the latter in a fine up to £5,000, and/or five years imprisonment.
Regarding vehicles, the Road Traffic Act 1988 Section 22A(1)(a) states that causing danger to other road-users could result in a fine up to £5,000, and/or a maximum of seven years imprisonment.
If such action results in a fatal accident, then consideration will be given to an offence of manslaughter.
In cases of assault, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 states that causing actual bodily harm or grevious bodily harm could result in a fine up to £5,000, and/or five years imprisonment.
Anyone with information regarding such an incident is urged to call Surrey Police on 0845 125 2222.
Alternatively, information can be passed to Crimestoppers anonymously and free of charge on 0800 555 111.