Sheffield laser yob puts lives at risk

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A YOB has been condemned for putting lives at risk by shining a powerful laser beam at South Yorkshire’s police helicopter as it flew over a densely populated Sheffield suburb.

Neil Shackleton, aged 27, of Newstead Drive, Birley, used a laser so strong it distracted the pilot two miles away as he flew over Woodhouse.

Despite the distance, staff in the helicopter were able to film the incident to establish the source of the beam - and tracked it to Shackleton’s bedroom.

PC Matt Lucas, who was a member of the crew on the day of the attack, said Shackleton’s actions had been ‘reckless’ and the aircraft could have crashed.

He said that, when lasers hit cockpit windows, the beams spread and have a blinding effect on those inside.

The officer said it was the third time within a month that the helicopter had been targeted - and revealed that in another incident a lorry driver had been caught aiming a laser beam at the helicopter as he travelled along the A1 towards Doncaster.

Again, the culprit was caught on camera - and footage revealed he had also shone the beam at other moving vehicles on the road.

Shackleton was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work in the community and ordered to pay £85 costs.

The other two cases are still going through the courts.

PC Lucas said: “These beams are very powerful and, in the wrong hands, are very dangerous.

“The problem is, as was the case in Sheffield, when beams hit the cockpit window they spread and have a blinding effect because you can’t see out.

“It can also cause sharp pain and lasting damage if you are looking directly at the light.

“When you are operating at night, over densely populated housing estates, and can’t see where you are flying it is dangerous - that’s why the charge that accompanies this type of offence is called ‘endangering the safety of an aircraft’.”

He said once the pilot ‘recovered’ from the shock of Shackleton’s laser beam attack he managed to position the aircraft to avoid the beam and the camera was aimed in the direction it was coming from.

That allowed crew members to trace it back to the culprit’s house and call for local police officers from the Manor, Wybourn and Arbourthorne Safer Neighbourhood Team to arrest him.

When officers searched Shackleton’s home they found the laser pen in his bedroom.

PC Lucas said laser beams’ light can travel for miles and is dangerous at all distances, but if an aircraft is targeted from close proximity the risks are increased.

“We operate above built-up areas and sometimes at low levels and if one of these beams was to hit us at this range and affect the pilot it could have devastating consequences - endangering the crew and people underneath,” he added.

He warned offenders that crew members would track them down.

“We have the ability to identify people from a couple of miles away, as we did in Sheffield, so if we see you we will not ignore you - you will get arrested,” he added.