Laser pens 'threaten Gatwick passenger safety'

Hundreds of lives are being put at risk by people shining laser pens in the eyes of pilots flying at Gatwick Airport, says a Sussex MP.

Henry Smith, the Tory MP for Crawley, said the government should consider classing the pens as offensive weapons.

Between January and September 2011 there were 18 reported cases of lasers being shone at aircraft at the airport.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire said there were no plans to reclassify lasers as offensive weapons.

Pilots dazzled

Laser pens are sold as office equipment used to point out details on presentations.

The high-intensity light can dazzle pilots during take-off and landing when shone at aircraft.

Mr Smith said: "[The pens] can potentially endanger hundreds of lives in the air and on the ground."

Between 1 January and 30 September 2012 there were 18 reported incidents against aircraft approaching Gatwick Airport, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Insp Mark Callaghan, of Sussex Police at Gatwick Airport, said: "Directing laser devices towards aircraft in flight to dazzle or distract the pilot is a criminal offence as it represents a considerable threat to the lives of the people on board and on the ground.

"We have brought a number of successful prosecutions to court which have resulted in significant sanctions for the offender, including jail terms."

On 3 January, Paul Bennett, of King George Avenue, East Grinstead, pleaded guilty at Crawley Magistrates' Court to shining a light at an aircraft, and was fined £350.

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