Birmingham & Black Country

Suspended term for police helicopter laser 'toast' man

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Media captionChristopher Vowles was caught on thermal cameras waving beer bottles at the helicopter, police said.

A man who "dazzled" a police helicopter with a laser pen before "toasting" the act with friends has received a seven-month suspended sentence.

Christopher Vowles, 23, shone the device at the craft from a back garden in Kitts Green, Birmingham on 31 July.

Vowles, of Highfield Road, Great Barr, was caught "laughing and toasting the attack with fellow drinkers" on thermal cameras, police said.

His sentence was suspended for two years.

'Disco ball effect'

He was also ordered to perform 250 hours' unpaid work at Birmingham Crown Court.

West Midlands Police said Vowles had been drinking in the garden of a house in Eatesbrook Road when the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter flew overhead.

They said the craft, hovering at 1,300 ft (396 m) at the time, was struck several times by a green laser beam at about 01:15 BST.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Vowles was caught by thermal cameras raising beer bottles in the air, police said
Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Laser pens have a "disco ball effect" when shone into a helicopter's cabin, according to one pilot
Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption The helicopter had been hovering near a garden party in Kitts Green when it was struck by the laser

Using the helicopter's thermal imaging camera, the crew tracked the source of the beam to the back garden.

Police said the crew "zoomed in on the party and watched as they laughed, gestured up at the helicopter and raised beer bottles aloft."

A ground response team was sent to the address and Vowles was arrested on suspicion of acting recklessly in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft.

Senior NPAS pilot Andy Shanks said laser devices have "a disco-ball strobe effect" when they are shone into the cabin of a helicopter.

"It's disorientating, makes it impossible to focus on the instrument panel and is extremely dangerous as even a momentary loss of control can be crucial," he said.

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