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'Stupid' laser pen offender avoids prison

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 20, 2014

By Jeff Wells

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A security guard from Bristol who shone a laser pen into the cockpit of a police helicopter while it searched for a missing person has escaped a prison sentence.

Gavin Hoskins, 26, was told by a judge that his actions were "potentially extremely dangerous" and could have caused an accident.

Bristol Crown Court heard that the pilot of the Avon and Somerset Police helicopter was forced to abort the missing person hunt after being distracted as the beam was repeatedly trained on the aircraft. The father-of-one had grabbed the laser pen from his toolbox to help him look for his white Boxer dog, which had escaped from his garden.

During the search for his pet on the night of January 20 Hopkins saw the helicopter flying at about 1,500ft (450m) and repeatedly shone the laser pen, which he had bought for his daughter while on holiday in Bulgaria.

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Peter Coombe, prosecuting, said: "The recollection of the officers in the helicopter is that the defendant shone his torch up at the aircraft on three or four occasions."

The helicopter crew then switched from the missing person search to try and find who was responsible and before long officers on the ground tracked Hoskins down.

"It does not appear that the pilot on this occasion was distracted," Mr Coombe said.

"When Hoskins was arrested he accepted what he done and he still had the laser pen in his pocket. He shone it on the helicopter not thinking it would have the range to reach the helicopter. He said he had been stupid and he had not realised he had put the helicopter in danger."

At Bristol Magistrates' Court last month Hoskins, of Guinea Lane, Fishponds, Bristol pleaded guilty to recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or person in an aircraft. He was committed to the crown court to be sentenced.

Nicholas Clough, defending, said Hoskins had previous convictions as a teenager but in recent years had kept out of trouble.

"It is an unusual offence which can be either committed deliberately or committed by sheer stupidity," he said.

"He accepts it was stupid. He readily admitted what he had done and he accepts it was stupid in the extreme. It was not a deliberate act to endanger the pilot of the helicopter."

Mr Clough added: "He himself turned his life around. He met his current partner and they have a child aged two. He has been employed in the security industry until the publicity of this case and he lost his job. Once the dust has settled he will look for a new job."

Mr Clough said that Hoskins was licensed by the Security Industry Authority and that could be under threat as a result of these proceedings. Assistant Advocate General Alan Large imposed a five-month prison sentence on Hoskins but suspended it for two years.

"Both of the lawyers in this case accept the custody threshold has been passed," the judge said. "What you did was stupid and potentially extremely dangerous. You came to your senses when the police caught up with you. I accept you didn't quite appreciate how dangerous your actions were."

Hoskins was also ordered to carry out 200 hours' unpaid work.

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