A MAN launched a persistent and prolonged laser attack on a police helicopter as it hovered above his home, looking for a missing person.
Council worker Kevin Mark Griffiths, 22, used a powerful laser pen which he had bought on holiday in Spain to flash about 10 times at the North Wales Police helicopter over an eight minute period.
The aircraft with three on board was hovering at 1,200 feet above a densely populated area of Greenfield at the time and any complications could have been disastrous, a court was told yesterday.
Pilot Mitch Spicer moved the aircraft to try and avoid the laser.
The task to find a vulnerable missing person was not abandoned but the laser attack did distract the aircraft crew, caused distress and wasted valuable search time and resources, said prosecutor Tracy Willingham.
Griffiths, of Queen’s Road in Greenfield, admitted a charge at Flintshire Magistrates Court at Mold of recklessly endangering an aircraft or persons inside, brought under the 1982 Civil Aviation Act.
Magistrates, who heard that he had never been in any trouble before, gave him a five month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, ordered him to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work, with £165 costs.
He was told that while he may not have appreciated the consequences at the time, what he had done could have been far more serious and could have brought the aircraft down.
They ordered that the laser pen be destroyed.
The court heard how the helicopter had been called out at 8.30pm on Wednesday, September 25, last year.
Captain Spicer, who has 14 years experience, was wearing night vision goggles and he and the two crew began a search.
But Miss Willingham told how they were subjected to a “persistent and prolonged laser attack” trying to distract the aircraft and which was successful for some time.
The captain later told how it was distracting and dangerous, if it had struck him it could have damaged his eyes, he could have lost his licence and livelihood, and he told in a statement: “This is the same as a physical assault.”
It wasted valuable search time and resources, he said.
Crewman John Shuttleworth told how the laser struck the aircraft in excess of 10 times.
He said the light disseminated around the inside of the cab and could have prevented the crew from completing their primary task.
His fellow crewman Les Howell told how the laser attack went on for some eight minutes and it was recorded on digital recording equipment inside the aircraft which was played to the court.
Colleagues on the ground were directed to the defendant’s home, there was no reply, and when they went in through the back door he pretended to be asleep on the sofa.
But he admitted what he had done and produced the laser from the bedroom.
Interviewed, he said he did not know why he had done it, it was not to hamper the on-going police operation but he accepted it could have.
Philip Lloyd Jones, defending, said Griffiths was a hard working young man of no previous convictions who made “ a massive mistake”.
A single man, he worked for Flintshire Council and had bought the laser in Spain.
“It seemed to be common place for people to be buying this item and using them at night,” Mr Lloyd Jones said.
He was not challenged when he brought it into the country.
That night, he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he heard the aircraft above his home, and “foolishly and recklessly” shone it, knowing it was a police helicopter.
Obviously the captain and the crew were resolute, they did not have to take any emergency or evasive action, and it was clear the captain remained in full control throughout.
The majority of the laser beams struck the outside of the aircraft although Mr Lloyd Jones said he had on the film seen one inside the helicopter for a couple of seconds.
It had not gone on for a full eight minutes but had been shone intermittently.
He did not have any negative feelings towards the police and it had been “a foolish, impulsive and reckless action” by a young man whose references showed no one had a bad word to say against him.
The defendant would find it “complete hell” in prison, he said, and suggested a suspended sentence.
Following the case, the NPAS (National Police Air Service) accountable manager, chief superintendent Ian Whitehouse, said: "NPAS aircraft perform vital police tasks and their work can save lives and numerous hours of valuable police time.
"When dealing with missing and vulnerable people time can be of critical importance - shining a laser pen at an aircraft not only puts the pilot and the crew in danger but it can also delay the helicopter which may result in serious injury or even the loss of life.
“What Griffiths did was stupid and reckless. We will deal robustly with anyone who uses lasers and puts lives at risk and we have the necessary technology to be able to identify people involved. We will and do take firm action against offenders and put them before the courts.
“Such offences hold a potential five year custodial sentence and/or a significant fine. People must therefore realise the devastating effects on all involved.
“What might seem like a game will result in them getting a criminal record. Real people’s lives are at risk – this is not some kind of computer game.”