Published: 12:54, 10 January 2019
| Updated: 12:56, 10 January 2019
A man has been acquitted of using a laser pen to deliberately put a ferry in danger as it was docking - but was given a ticking off in court.
A jury took half an hour at the end of a three day trial to find Christopher Lee not guilty of the charge.
After the verdict at Canterbury Crown Court, the judge said the 21-year-old should not have been charged - and said he wouldn't have jailed him even if there had been a conviction.
Recorder Bruce Houlder QC said the Attorney General should have reviewed the file as there hadn’t been a “realistic” chance of a conviction.
Then he told Lee, of Selkirk Road, Dover: “I hope you have learned your lesson.”
Lee replied: “I certainly have.”
He had been charged with deliberately and knowingly interfering with the operation of the P&O vessel Spirit of France as it docked in Dover in March last year.
Shortly after his arrest, a new act, Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act, came into force which made it an offence to shine or direct a laser beam towards a vehicle which is moving or ready to move or causing the beam to dazzle or distract a person with control of the vehicle.
It carries a maximum one year jail term and a fine.
“I realised I had done something wrong when I reflected on my actions..." - Christopher Lee
Lee, 21, told the jury he believed the Spirit of France had already docked when he shone the beam from his car.
He had been with three pals in a car in the National Trust car park overlooking Dover Eastern Docks when he directed the laser pen to the bridge of the ship.
“I have been stupid and I was careless..because I knew it could affect people’s eyesight but I never intended interfering with the safety of the ship,” he told the jury.
The captain, Alex Wroe said he saw the laser as the ship was reversing into its birth and caused him to look away at a crucial moment.
He then alerted his second in command who contacted Dover Harbour Board and police officers went to the car park.
Lee told the court: “I realised I had done something wrong when I reflected on my actions. Police then arrived which didn’t surprise me.”
The court heard Lee immediately admitted he had been using the laser pen and handed it over to a police officer.
Prosecutor Peter Forbes had asked the captain what had been the effect when he saw the laser light.
The captain replied: “I had to move my head and look away in case the beam struck me causing irreparable damage to my eyesight.
“In self preservation I ducked my head and this took my focus and my attention away from handling the ship.”
The prosecutor asked: “What is the impact on the safety of the vessel?”
Capt Wroe replied: “The safe navigation of a vessel can be totally destroyed because the crew cannot see where it is going or what is happening.
“There was a very real risk of a collision and the impact we were travelling there would have been a jolt, knocking people off their feet as passengers were making their way downstairs to their vehicles.”
The judge asked the Crown Prosecution Service to write to the Attorney General’s Office to pass on his comments.