A TEENAGER who repeatedly shone a laser torch into a police helicopter could have caused a ‘catastrophic accident’.

Hammaad Arif was told by Blackburn magistrates that innocent people could have been killed.

Arif, 18, of Lammack Road, Blackburn, pleaded guilty to shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.

He was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for 12 months and ordered to do 240 hours unpaid work and pay £85 costs.

In a 10-minute incident Arif shone a laser pen into the cockpit of the police helicopter more than a dozen times, causing the pilot to take evasive action.

Passing sentence the chairman of the magistrates said Arif’s actions could have caused a catastrophic accident.

“If the helicopter had gone down the occupants could have died as well as people on the ground.

“It could have landed on your house killing your family and that is something you should think about,” he said.

Catherine Allan, prosecuting, said the helicopter was circling over the Whalley Range area of Blackburn at about 1.35am when the cockpit was suddenly illuminated by a bright green light.

The pilot took evasive action, banking away from the light, and then took up a position of safety from which he could observe the car from which the light was being shone.

“The helicopter was targeted repeatedly over the next 10 minutes but the crew were able to direct ground units to the car,” said Miss Allan.

“The seriousness of the offence is the potential for fatal results, not only for the people in the helicopter but also members of the public on the ground below.”

Gareth Price, defending, said his client had no previous convictions and he hoped the magistrates could deal with him short of an immediate custodial sentence.

“In his own mind he was fooling around,” said Mr Price.

“He had no contemplation of the seriousness of what he was doing or the potential consequences. You are asked to consider a deterrent sentence and I would suggest that can be achieved without an immediate custodial sentence.”

Police said there have been a growing number of attacks on police helicopters with laser pointers, which emit a concentrated beam of light and are designed for indoor use to highlight items durting presentations.

The Metropolitan Police have led a campaign on the issue. A spokesman said: “Anyone who shines a laser at an aircraft performs a dangerous and reckless act.

“When a laser is directed at any aircraft it puts lives at risk.”