Wiltshire

Gamekeeper found guilty of driving at army helicopter

Malcolm Hughes
Image caption Malcolm Hughes was found guilty of driving his Land Rover at an army helicopter

A gamekeeper from Wiltshire has been found guilty of endangering an aircraft after he drove his Land Rover straight at a low-flying army helicopter.

Malcolm Hughes, 61, of Raffin Lane, Pewsey, could have killed the two pilots in the incident, Salisbury Crown Court was told.

The helicopter pilot avoided disaster when he saw the car coming at him.

Mr Hughes denied acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft but was found guilty after a three-day trial.

The jury heard that Lt Higgins was flying an Army Air Corps Squirrel helicopter with trainee pilot Bombardier Henry Luck when he spotted Mr Hughes on 9 December 2009.

'Intentionally driven'

Prosecutor Justin Gau said: "They saw the defendant's Land Rover driving underneath the helicopter itself.

"It remained there and then drove off a few yards and the defendant was seen gesticulating angrily and making signs that the vehicle should depart.

"It was clear and quite intentional the Land Rover had been driven at the helicopter."

Mr Gau added that had the helicopter been hit by the car "a fatal crash would have occurred".

The helicopter had taken off from Middle Wallop airbase in Hampshire on a route which was used by the Army Air Corps every three months.

Image caption Lt Higgins told the court he saw Mr Hughes' Land Rover beneath his helicopter

As the helicopter approached the field, Mr Gau said, Lt Higgins dropped to 20ft (6.09m) and then carried out safety checks before starting to drop to 5ft (1.52m).

It was as the helicopter descended that the Land Rover was driven towards them and they had to take evasive action, Mr Gau said.

Giving evidence, Lt Higgins said he was just about to descend to 5ft when his colleague raised the alarm.

Driver 'gesticulated'

"He suddenly said stop at about 10ft (3.03m) as we started to descend," the officer said.

"As soon as he said stop I looked to the direction he was looking and about half a second later I saw a Land Rover driving underneath the helicopter.

"It moved forward towards the other side of the field and stopped and the occupant gesticulated for us to depart."

The pilot maintained that, had he not taken evasive action, the helicopter would have struck the vehicle.

Hughes maintained he was only trying to get the aircraft's serial number.

Following his arrest,he told police that he had not driven under the helicopter and the closest he had been was 300 metres away.

Judge Douglas Field adjourned the case until August 24 when sentencing will take place.

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