THE sentence handed to Robert Gilbert and Victoria Rayner meant they got off “lightly”, says Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PPC) Vera Baird.
Magistrates at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court were told while the charge of ‘shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot’ has no specific sentencing guidelines, it is not an imprisonable offence, so therefore they could only impose a discharge or fine.
The crime was introduced in 2010 after the UK Civil Aviation Authority complained of a growing number of incidents involving laser devices being shone at aircraft near British airports.
Previously, anyone caught shining a laser at an aircraft may have been charged with recklessly endangering it and those convicted could be jailed. The lesser charge means that the prosecution does not have to prove an intention to down the aircraft.
Speaking when it was launched, Bob Jones, head of flight operations at the CAA, said: “This new criminal charge will strengthen the hand of law enforcement agencies in their efforts to tackle this problem.”
Speaking after Gilbert and Rayner’s court case Ms Baird called for courts to hand out stronger sentences for the crime.
She said: “This was extremely reckless behaviour, which could have had horrific consequences.
“The force helicopter was looking for a missing child when these two individuals carried out this mindless act.
“This relatively small fine does mean offenders appear to have been let off somewhat lightly and I would like to have seen the maximum penalty imposed.
“Offences like this need to carry a strong deterrent sentence to send the right message to the law-abiding community.”