A father of five who accidentally shone a laser pen at a police helicopter, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing, was told by a judge he had avoided jail by a "whisker" today.
Stuart Bowering was facing a possible prison sentence after a court was told the laser had impaired the crew's vision.
Bristol Crown Court heard the 31-year-old's actions in December last year had almost caused the helicopter to move into Bristol Airport's airspace which could have resulted in the diversion of a commercial flight that was coming in to land.
During the period of time the laser was shone into the cockpit - approximately three seconds - the pilot, Paul Maddox, said the laser put "temporary black spots" in his vision.
But Bowering - who pleaded guilty to a charge of recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft - told the court he had not realised the power of the laser pen.
The self-employed builder was walking his two dogs with his 10-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son near his home in Hawkfield Road, Hartcliffe, at about 9.10pm on December 3 when the laser he was using to make his dogs run around was directed into the sky.
Asked if he was aware of the helicopter, Bowering said: "I heard it, but I didn't realise it was that close.
"I was moving the pen in a figure of eight on the ground and then flung it up in the air to confuse the dogs.
"I've seen the CCTV and my reaction was that I was shocked from the power of the pen. I didn't realise it would go that far up in the sky."
Bowering told the court he had been trying to wear his dogs out and despite the CCTV showing the laser passing through the cockpit and back again he had not meant to direct it at the helicopter.
Following the incident Bowering was traced to his address and immediately admitted he owned the pen.
Nigel Fryer, defending, said: "This isn't a man who had deliberately gone out to target the helicopter.
"He is extremely sorry for his actions, he did not realise the gravity of his actions, he did not realise the law and he certainly did not realise the power of the pen."
Bowering, who appeared in court casually dressed, was handed a 12-month community order which included his attendance at a Thinking and Skills course, a three-month curfew between the hours of 9pm and 6.30am and was told he would have to repay £200 in court costs.
Passing sentence, the judge, Recorder Harry Martineau, said: "It is clear from the video recording I have seen that you were out with your children and two dogs when you were playing around with this laser pen.
"You have said the contact between the pen and the helicopter was an accident. I accept the initial point was an accident but it does seem to be something you repeated.
"I hope you have taken on board what is in the pilot's statement that what you did almost caused him to trespass on the airspace of Bristol Airport and cause a diversion of a commercial flight.
"People who attempt to target helicopters in this stupid and idiotic way should expect to go to prison.
"It is only by a whisker that I find you did not do this on purpose. I should have sent you to prison but as it is, I didn't.
"It is clear you need some help thinking through the consequences of your actions."
The incident was one of a growing number of attacks on aircraft with laser pointers, which emit a beam of light and are designed for indoor use to highlight items during presentations.