News from the war on terror frontline: when anglers become terrorists

GetReading reports:

Three anglers claim they were arrested under anti-terror laws in Woodley after using laser pens to frighten ducks away from their bait hooks.

The three men were taken into Loddon Valley Police Station late on Friday, March 7, and two were held overnight, DNA tested, fingerprinted and then released without charge…

[One of the three] said they were told they had been arrested for “endangering aircraft”…

A police spokesman clarified later that the men were arrested under the Air Navigation Order 2005 – not terror laws.

Whether or not it was anti-terrorism legislation isn’t really the point. It’s more a question of how many low-flying aircraft about to crash into ducks swimming on the river there are which need protection from laser pens. I’m guessing the answer is “zero”.

Hat-tip: Mark Reckons

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Mar '09 - 9:42am

    A Google search using the terms “laser pen” and “aircraft” reveals many cases of laser pens being aimed at aircraft and pilots being dazzled by them. The science behind this is explained here:

    A laser beam can reach an aircraft as it is landing or taking off (Reading is close to Heathrow, yes?). By the time it does so, it will have spread out (making it easier to hit the target) to the point where it wouldn’t cause physical damage to the eye, but could seriously dazzle the pilot.

    So this is a serious issue, the answer to the question about how many low-flying aircraft have been endangered by laser pens appears not to be “zero” or even an insignificantly low number. This is something you could easily have looked up, it took me a few seconds to do so.

    That was the obvious response to this news item – instead of spouting off in an ignorant manner, just check to see if this is a serious issue or not. It is a serious issue, pilots have had their ability to land their aircraft endangered by people doing this, so quite obviously it is a matter which one would expect the police to pay attention to.

    In most cases it seems this is just people trying out the range of their new toy and not deliberately trying to cause serious harm. If there were reports of pilots being dazzled by laser pens, and the news reports say there was one in this case, then the police had every right to go and find out who was using laser pens in the vicinity. It may have been that the people in this case were just using their laser pens as they say they were, or that while doing so they just decided to try it on a plane, or that the duck story was just an excuse for being seriously stupid and seeing if they could hit planes with lasers. Your pooh-poohing of this rather than just checking the science and facts behind it makes you look stupid.

  • “Reading is close to Heathrow, yes?”

    Woodley is about 17 miles from Heathrow Airport.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Mar '09 - 11:09am

    Your sentence

    It’s more a question of how many low-flying aircraft about to crash into ducks swimming on the river there are which need protection from laser pens.

    suggested you believed the very idea that laser pens could be a potential problem for aircraft was ridiculous. You have also insinuated that this was something done under anti-terrorist legislation, when the facts of the issue make clear it was something done under legislation that, quite correctly, guards against pilots being dazzled in this way.

    If recent incidents of this pilot dazzling with lasers have occurred, and the news article says they have, it does not seem to me to be unreasonable to question people using lasers near the flightpaths of aircraft. If you had said the police over-reacted, then ok, but the tone of your article wasn’t that.

    I wasn’t aware of this use of lasers by anglers, and maybe the police weren’t either. Now they know, and I would hope would learn from this to leave anglers alone with their lasers if it is clear they are using them just for duck-scaring.

    I have to say that if I had such a thing, and a low-flying aircraft came by, I might very well be tempted to try and see if it could hit the aircraft. I wouldn’t be doing this to cause harm, just out of curiosity. It is good to be warned by this that actually that could cause damage, so don’t be tempted to do it.

    It’s silly to liken this to cars. A better case would be people carrying guns for sporting use. Legitimate, yes, but needs to be done with care. Laser pens are useful tools, yes, but we need to treat them with respect because of their potential danger. Sadly, there are a lot of idiots about who do silly things, especially after they have been drinking (the story does mention the people in question drinking).

    So I simply believe you are over-reacting here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Mar '09 - 1:08pm

    A laser pen is a tool used indoors in slide presentations. It wouldn’t be obvious to me that anglers also use this tool for scaring off ducks, thus I think it would be legitimate if I saw someone using one outside at night to think they might be fooling about.

    News reports do reveal a significant number of cases where people have been fooling about with laser pointers. Not necessarily intentionally maliciously, but in a way that nevertheless could cause serious harm.

    The case of pilots being dazzled by people using them on incoming aircraft has been pointed out. A Google search reveals quite a few incidents of this happening. Someone else has said this was happening 17 miles from Heathrow, so this would place it well within the area where incoming aircraft could be affected.

    I was also thinking that car drivers could be dazzled in a similar way with these laser pens, this is what I meant by likening it to guns (I meant sports guns like air rifles), something that could cause harm when operated from a distance.

    So I think there were legitimate reasons for the police being concerned here. “We were using it to scare off ducks” sounds like the sort of excuse someone fooling around in a dangerous way might give. The police may have over-reacted in detaining the people overnight, but I don’t see this as a case which warrants the billing you’ve given it as some sort of anti-terrorist paranoia.

  • “Someone else has said this was happening 17 miles from Heathrow, so this would place it well within the area where incoming aircraft could be affected.”

    What’s the evidence that incoming aircraft could be affected as far away from Heathrow as 17 miles?

  • “It was notification of one pilot which set the police on alert and what did they do?”

    I rather doubt it was anything to do with a notification by a pilot.

    The Daily Telegraph has this:
    “A spokesman for Southlake Angling Society said there had been complaints about certain anglers making a nuisance of themselves by shining the lasers at other people and residents’ homes.

    He said Mr Kailus [one of the men arrested] had subsequently had his membership withdrawn “for bringing the club into disrepute”.

    It sounds to me as though the men may indeed have been “fooling around”, and the mention of the Air Navigation Order may just have been a pretext for the police to arrest them and confiscate their laser pens.

  • Oranjepan

    I think in the circumstances it would be unwise to take the men’s claims entirely at face value.

  • Oranjepan

    What inconsistency are you thinking of?

  • Oranjepan

    But this is coming from what the anglers said, isn’t it?

    What independent evidence do you have that the police have been inconsistent?

  • Oranjepan

    Well, I’m suggesting this may well have had nothing to do with any incident reported by a pilot, and nothing to do with endangering aircraft. Reading between the lines, it seems that these men may have been making a nuisance of themselves with their laser pens, and that the police were trying to stop the problem by throwing the book at them.

    It may well have been inappropriately heavy handed, but on the other hand – as I said – I’m not convinced everything the men said about anti-terror operations can be believed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '09 - 10:57am

    From my dealings with the police, one cannot always expect them to be super-intelligent. Doing nothing in response to complaints, and then over-reacting after being pushed is quite common.

    My point throughout is that I don’t see this as a “New Labour has used terrorism to turn us into a police state” issue. I see it as something that has happened and will happen again – officials dealing with a real issue finding it difficult to get the balance right.

    This is why I am opposed to taking a sensationalist approach to it. To be honest, I think this is a non-story. The sensationalist approach, common in the tabloid press, is to get all whipped up with a “something must be done” attitude in the face of a problem, and then to get equally whipped up when something is done and it turns out to be an over-reaction. One can imagine, if there were some incident where an accident was caused by a laser pen aimed at a landing aircraft, the same newspapers now making this a “police state” story going up in arms and calling for some heavy legislation and policing of laser pens.

    It reminds me of a more serious issue, the Baby P case. After this, people were baying for the blood of social workers accusing them of being lazy and incompetent for not taking babies away from their parents if there was fear of abuse. But it wasn’t that long ago since people were baying for the blood of social workers accusing them of being heartless and agressive, too willing to snatch babies away from their parents on the pretext of fear of abuse.

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