A MAN who shone a laser beam at a police helicopter carrying out a missing persons search has been branded an idiot by a judge.

Benjamin Fort, 39, directed the beam from his laser pen for a prolonged period at the helicopter, which was looking for a missing woman in Keighley.

The laser beam, which Fort shone from his top floor flat at Parkwood Rose, Keighley, temporarily blinded the pilot, who was on board with another serving police officer.

The helicopter had travelled from Manchester to assist with the search for the missing woman.

Fort claimed he was shining the laser beam as he was hunting rabbits, but said at an earlier court hearing he thought the helicopter was a UFO.

His laser beam shone on the helicopter’s cockpit in a ‘prolonged and deliberate manner’. The pilot recovered his vision and was able to safely land the helicopter.

Fort was located at his flat and arrested and his laser pen was recovered, Bradford Crown Court heard yesterday.

Paul Canfield, prosecuting, said: “He said he did not think he would get near the helicopter as it was a cheap laser pen.”

The incident took place at around 3.45am on August 17 last year.

Speaking at a police interview, Fort said he did not mean to shine the laser beam at the helicopter and did not mean to cause any harm.

In mitigation, the court heard Fort was deeply sorry to the two people onboard the helicopter and was sorry if he placed them both at risk. It was ‘not a deliberate attempt to inflict injury or to bring them down’.

The court also heard Fort has had an issue with alcohol in the past and also past mental health difficulties including severe depression and paranoia.

Fort was jailed for six months for shining or directing the beam towards the helicopter from his home address.

During his sentencing remarks, Judge Jonathan Rose told Fort he was an idiot for pointing the laser beam at the helicopter.

Judge Rose added Fort had not only potentially put the lives of the two men in the helicopter in danger, but also the lives of residents in homes below it if it had crashed.

Judge Rose said: “You said you were hunting rabbits. That was a complete and utter lie. It was a lie, so you changed it on the last occasion.

“You thought what was flying overhead was a UFO. That was a lie too.

“The reality is there could never be any justification for what you did.

“It is quite obvious that blinding a pilot brings an automatic reflex for them to close their eyes. At that point, the life of the pilot and anyone onboard, in this case a serving police officer, is put in jeopardy.

“Thankfully, nobody was injured or mercifully, lost their lives.”

Fort could not be sentenced at a previous hearing last month at Bradford Crown Court because he turned up “intoxicated” and had to sleep it off in the cells.

He had arrived at the court building on that occasion heavily intoxicated. The security staff had to be alerted and three dock officers were needed to take him down to the cells.

At that hearing, Judge Rose said Fort had to be given three hours to sleep off his “alcoholic binge.”