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Teenager Ben Carter spared jail for shining laser pen at police helicopter in Ashford search

The police helicopter
The police helicopter

Teenager Ben Carter shone a laser at a police helicopter

by Paul Hooper

A teenager who repeatedly shone a laser pen at a police helicopter while officers were searching for a missing man has avoided going straight to prison.

But Ben Carter, 19, of Bentley Road, Willesborough, was told by a judge: "I have dealt with many cases at this court... but this is the most stupid."

Carter was given a six-month jail sentence - suspended for two years - and ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Canterbury Crown Court heard how he had targeted the chopper, which was being used to help officers search for a missing person from the William Harvey Hospital in August last year.

Laser pen. Library image
Laser pen. Library image

Carter had used the hand-held device to send a laser beam (similar to one pictured right) into the cockpit, dazzling the pilot and those onboard.

Prosecutor Matthew Turner said: "Captain John Atkinson, the pilot, told he was involved in a search of a local hospital where a vulnerable person was missing.

"PC Knightley, who was onboard, was hit in the eye by a laser that came from the ground.

"He protected his eyes because of the discomfort. The helicopter then had to move away.

"Then the beam was shone directly into one of the pilot's eyes and caused him a few minutes loss of night vision and some blurring of his vision for some hours after."

The helicopter search was then called off – but not because of Carter's actions, the court heard.

Trainee tree surgeon Carter, who lives with his mother, pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering an aircraft and the people onboard.

Duane Bridger, defending, said Carter told police he was "just messing around".

"He didn't appreciate at the time how dangerous it was. He does now. Fortunately it wasn't his actions which caused the search to be called off. That was due to the helicopter being low on fuel."

"what if that helicopter had crashed and what would have happened if it killed someone? it would have been your fault​..." – recorder bobbie cheema qc

The judge, Recorder Bobbie Cheema QC, told Carter: "To have a young man like you, who has never been in trouble with the police before, doing something which could have resulted in the death of an experienced pilot and police officer is a an utterly reckless thing to have done and I would be justified in sending you to prison immediately.

"You had a laser pen and you pointed it directly at a helicopter - even though it was only for a matter of seconds. But during those seconds it shone into the eyes of a police officer and then into the pilot's eyes.

"It must have been utterly frightening to both of those people. The grave danger is immediately obvious to any sensible person. What if that helicopter had crashed and what would have happened if it killed someone? It would have been your fault."

The police helicopter was searching for a 44-year-old man who had gone missing from the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford.

There had been concerns for this welfare after he disappeared without taking his medication.

The man was found alive in Bexhill-On-Sea more than a week later.

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