A bored man who came close to crashing a £1.5 million police helicopter and killing its three-man crew by shining a laser at it has been fined just £100.
Haroon Khalid, 20, dazzled a pilot at the controls of the force chopper with a laser as it flew hundreds of feet above his home in Moathouse Road, Ward End. Birmingham Magistrates’ Court was told how the pilot could have been left temporarily blinded by the beam and lost control.
But magistrates were told their sentencing powers left them able to do nothing more than impose a fine of a few hundred pounds.
Jobless Khalid admitted offences of dazzling or distracting a pilot under the 2009 Air Navigation order. He was ordered to pay the fine on top of costs of £120.
Aviation groups say they are stunned by the sentence.
“It seems very lenient. Until there is more deterrent or clear warnings on these lasers, they will continue to be a real problem for all pilots,” said Peter Lawton, chief executive of the British Helicopter Association.
“This is a growing problem for police and civil helicopter pilots as well as airline crews. These pens are cheaply and readily available.
“I’m not sure that the people who misuse them really understand how distracting they can be.”
The court was told that a crew flying back to Birmingham Airport at about 4am on Saturday, May 29, were passing near to Khalid’s home when the pilot suddenly became aware of a green light.
He shielded his eyes and told the crew to try to find its source, said Jonathan Purser, prosecuting. “The aircraft was targeted for a second and then a third time, which allowed the crew to pinpoint the location,” said Mr Purser
“The risk of temporary blindness is high and could result in losing control of the aircraft.”
The court heard that Khalid was standing at the top of the stairs when his mother answered the door to police, and quickly admitted using a laser pen to target the helicopter.
He told police that he could not sleep and had been bored and handed over the laser pointer, added Mr Purser.
Khalid had bought the pen for about £10 during a holiday, said Howard Joy, prosecuting.
“He had no intention of blinding the pilot or bringing down the aircraft,” said Mr Joy. “He fully understands what he did was silly.”
A panel of magistrates was advised that they ought to impose a fine of no more than 150 per cent of Khalid’s weekly income, which amounts to £94 in benefits.