Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Fishermen's Tale

It is not often one gets to read about Reading in a national newspaper unless one is reading the sports section. So it was with surprise that I came across this article in The Daily Telegraph about three fishermen at Southlake in Woodley. However, this story is not the hoary old fisherman’s tale of the one that got away but one of suspected terrorism, arrests and confiscation. The story in short is that three fishermen were arrested during the evening of Friday 20th March under the Air Navigation Order 2005; they were not charged but had their green light laser pens confiscated. I urge you to read the Telegraph article or the Reading Evening Post version for the full story.

My problem is that the story generates more questions than it answers. We start with an image of three people fishing in the gloom of a Friday evening when a local police officer accompanied by two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) arrived, told them about people shining lasers into the cockpits of aircraft, took the names of the three fishermen and then confiscated the laser pens. Where did these police come from? It cannot be that they were on a patrol because the whole raison d’ĂȘtre of PCSOs is that they replace the requirement for a policeman to be on the beat. One can only conclude that the three members of the police force were sent there but sent by whom?

Then there is the follow-up; the two accounts differ they do agree that a number of police officers arrived some time later and arrested the three fishermen. That these police officers were called be in by the first three is clear to me but why they were called is not. PCSOs do not have the power of arrest but a police office does. One can only presume that they considered the three fishermen so dangerous that a larger number of bodies were required to effect the arrests. One of the three fishermen was released almost immediately, the other two were held overnight but were then released without charge. If there was no charge then why were the laser pens confiscated? Do the police have powers to remove items at will despite there being no evidence that these items were being used in an illegal fashion?

Finally, we have the statement from a ‘spokesman for the Thames Valley Police’; “Three men were arrested in Woodley on March 7 on suspicion of endangering an aircraft and were later released without charge.” I have a friend who is a pilot and he tells me that planes landing at Heathrow are at about 3,500 feet (1,066 metres) above the ground as they turn over Reading prior to their final approach. I have a problem believing that a £20 laser pen can keep the beam of light coherent over a distance of two-thirds of a mile. However, let us assume that it can, we are then asked to believe that a hand-held beam of light can be trained accurately on a target moving at around 200 mph. Even if we accept this we then have to consider how this beam of light is to enter the cockpit of the aircraft. You will recall that the cockpit is normally sited on the top of the fuselage with the windows sited in such a way that the ground immediately below an aircraft cannot be seen. Taking all this into consideration I do not see how these gentlemen, from their position at the side of a lake surrounded by trees could possibly shine a beam of laser light into the cockpit of an aeroplane.

All in all, this all seems a bit fishy (pun intended) to me. It is yet another example of how the police are drifting away from the force they were set up to be and losing public support as a consequence. This lack of support is best demonstrated by a cynical friend of mine who commented ‘I bet it was a police helicopter that flew low and slow overhead so they shone their lasers at it. I would have done the same!’


Matthew Huntbach said...

The following article seems to answer your question:

A laser beam spreads out, so it can reach an aircraft. By the time it does so, it is too spread out to cause eye damage, but can still dazzle.

A Google search using the search terms "laser pen" and "aircraft" reveals many cases where aircraft pilots have been dazzled by laser pens aimed at them. It took me seconds to find that, so perhaps before making stupid assumptions in the way you have, you could have done what I just did.

Paul Coombes said...

Thank you for the reference to the ezine article. Can you tell me which stupid assumption you think I have made?