A MAN who dazzled a police helicopter pilot with a laser, putting lives at risk months after the Clutha pub disaster, has been jailed.
The sentence was welcomed by pilots’ leaders today, who said prison terms for such crimes should be “the norm”.
Craig Ryan, 23, shone the beam repeatedly at the low-flying aircraft as the crew were hunting for a gunman over a town.
The pilot - believed to be a decorated Afghanistan combat veteran experienced in avoiding missiles and anti-aircraft fire - was forced to take evasive action to prevent his night vision being damaged.
Officers on board tracked the beam to the ground and used thermal imaging equipment to detect three people standing in Ryan’s garden.
Police were then directed to the scene in Stevenston, Ayrshire, where Ryan was detained and confessed immediately.
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The incident happened 10 months after a Police Scotland helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults pub in Glasgow, claiming 10 lives. The second anniversary of the tragedy was on November 29.
At Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, Ryan admitted culpable and reckless conduct - which carries a potential five-year jail term - by repeatedly shining a laser pen at the helicopter, with “wicked disregard” for the safety of others in September 2014, and failing to appear in court.
Jennifer Thomson, prosecuting, said two officers were on board the aircraft being flown by Captain Trott for Police Scotland’s air support unit to assist with a firearms incident.
Miss Thomson said: “At about 9.35pm they became aware of a green laser pen being shone at the aircraft.
“This caused the pilot to take evasive action to prevent the laser interfering with his night sight, as he was flying at low level. This happened several times.”
The crew pinpointed the beam to Ryan’s home in Burns Place, Stevenston, and as local officers closed in they saw one of three suspects dump the laser pen under a tree.
Miss Thomson added: “At this time the accused freely stated to officers prior to being cautioned, ‘I’m sorry, it was me.’”
Fraser Alexander, defending, said: “He should have known better, especially in the wake of the Clutha tragedy.
“It was just good luck that nobody was killed.”
Jailing Ryan for a year, Sheriff Alistair Watson told him the incident could have had “catastrophic” consequences, adding: “It was so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.”
A spokeswoman for pilots’ union BALPA said: “Shining a laser pen at an aircraft puts all those on board and those on the ground nearby in danger.
“It is vital people understand that if they endanger flights they will be prosecuted and could face serious penalties.
“BALPA believes prison sentences should be the norm, showing people just how serious this can be.”