Two men who pointed a laser pen at a police helicopter 'as a joke' during a drunken star-gazing session have been jailed.
The pilot described it as 'the most persistent and determined attack he had ever experienced in 14 years of operational policing.'
The laser beam barrage lasted around 25 minutes and continued even when the aircraft hovered almost directly over the address in the Blakenall area of Walsall.
Claudio Bruno, aged 48, and Carl Keates, 23, were arrested after a mobile police patrol was directed to the house in Hollands Road by the helicopter crew.
They initially denied having any knowledge of shining a laser pen until told that the incident had been recorded on the helicopter's video and thermal imaging camera. They pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court this week to recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft.
Mr Mark Rees, prosecuting, said the helicopter crew were not able to record the first 10 minutes of the attack on May 15 because they were pursuing a stolen car two and a half miles away in the Staffordshire area. However, the footage they did have clearly identified Bruno and Keates in the back garden of Bruno's home.
In interview Bruno said he had done it as a joke. He had bought the laser pen a few months earlier because he was interested in astrology and used it to point out the constellations. He said he had not been aware it was dangerous.
Keates told police he had seen red and green lights in the sky and wondered whether the laser could reach them. He admitted that as the lights got closer he realised they belonged to a helicopter.
Bruno was identified as the most persistent offender, responsible for about 90 per cent of the laser usage while Keates was reckoned to have shone the pen thee or four times.
Mr Thomas Kenning, defending both men, said that no malice had been intended by either and that Bruno, in particular, was terrified at the prospect of the court case.
He said: "His family say he has not been able to eat or sleep and has wept constantly. He is extremely remorseful, not for his position but for for what he did. It was stupid, foolish and reckless."
Mr Kenning said both men had been drinking extensively before carrying out the attack at around 10.25pm that night.
Bruno was visibly distressed in the dock. The hearing was held up briefly to allow him to take medication when he became ill.
Sentencing them, Judge John Warner said: "This type of case is one of the most difficult that a judge has to deal with because I have before me two men of good character but each charged with a very serious offence.
"I accept you are both very remorseful. You had both been drinking and no doubt thought it would be a jokey thing to do but it was not and it could have had catastrophic consequences."
Bruno, of Hollands Road, Blakenall, was jailed for 16 weeks and Keates, of Walker Road, Walsall, was given a 12-week sentence.