SCOTS police have been condemned for failing to arrest a yob who dazzled the crew of a military helicopter with a laser pen as they searched for a tragic dog-walker.
A Search and Rescue chopper from RAF Boulmer was flown to Fife on Friday night to help look for 50-year-old Andrew Marshall, who was later found dead next to his faithful dog.
It was hovering over Cowdenbeath when a bright green beam lit up the cockpit.
The pilot made an emergency call to police and reported the location of the attack.
Fife Police swooped on the culprit but are understood to have taken no action after the man claimed it was an innocent mistake.
Last night politicians called said the inaction was “disturbing” and vowed to investigate.
Fife councillor Jim Burke, who sits on both the Police, Fire and Safety Committee and the Police Complaints board, said: “It’s disturbing. Some action should have been taken against the individual and I will be making enquiries as to why this happened.”
Helen Eadie, MSP for the Cowdenbeath constituency, added: “This was a reckless act that endangered not just the crew of the helicopter but the whole community. People in Cowdenbeath will find it absolutely astounding that this individual has not being brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal for such a serious offence.
“I know the police will have wanted to concentrate on the search but actions like this need to have serious consequences.”
A source close to the rescue operation said: “Someone shone a laser at the search and rescue helicopter.
“The pilot gave the police the co-ordinates and they went to the address.
“The guy told them he hadn’t been shining it at the helicopter, he had been playing with it in his garden, and so they let the person off.”
A spokesman for the RAF today confirmed that the Sea King helicopter had been targeted.
Flight Sergeant Andy Carnall, from RAF Search and Rescue Headquarters, said: “The crew from RAF Boulmer was looking for a missing person in the Cowdenbeath area when a green laser was aimed at them.
“They communicated that information to the police and the police went to the address and spoke to the individual.
“This is a civil matter for the police to deal with.”
A spokesman for the British Air Line Pilots’ Association said all laser pen attacks on aircraft should be taken seriously by police and that a jail term should be the norm.
He said: “Pilots can easily be temporarily blinded by laser attacks.
“While there are health implications for him or her, the perpetrators must also think about the hundreds of passengers in the back of the plane, or the person who is being rescued by helicopter.
“Targeting lasers at aircraft is like playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”
He added: “All laser pen attacks must be taken seriously by the police and custodial sentences must be the norm.”
The incident follows a string of attacks on pilots using laser pens, and growing calls for the authorities to take a zero tolerance approach to those responsible.
In 2009 Glasgow airport suffered 42 incidents of lasers being shone into planes, a figure second only to Manchester.
A passenger plane landing at Edinburgh Airport was targeted in September.
The EasyJet Airbus A319 had a green beam shone at it from the Duddingston Loch area of the city.
Last September a Romanian fruit picker was jailed for four months for shining a laser at a Tornado jet as it came in to land.
Radu Moldovan, 28, focused the beam into the cockpit for up to ten seconds as the crew descended into RAF Leuchars in Fife.
He was caught after the navigator of the Tornado got a fix on the source of the intense light and passed the co-ordinates to police.
After his arrest, Moldovan also tried to claim that he had just been waving the laser around at random.
Aviation experts have claimed that the changes of an air disaster caused by a laser pen are becoming increasingly likely.
Across Europe, the number of reported incidents jumped from 1,048 in 2008 to 4,266 in 2010, according to Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.
And devices, which cost as little as £15, are becoming ever more powerful, with green beams around 60 more powerful than red ones.
They are capable of causing temporary damage to the retina, temporarily blinding the pilot, from as little as six miles away, with more expensive models capable of up to 85 miles.
The maximum sentence in the UK for intentionally endangering an aircraft is five years’ jail.
A spokesman for Fife Constabulary said: “After a call from the pilot of a search helicopter in the Cowdenbeath area on Friday night, Fife Constabulary attended at an address in the town.”
The force faced further criticism today from people who helped search for Mr Marshall.
One woman, part of the 17 strong team who found his body, said there was no officers present at the time of the discovery.
She said: “There was a magnificent response from the community in the bid to find Andrew but I was disappointed at the numbers of officers out on the search on Monday.
“He was a well known man in the Cowdenbeath area and I felt we could have seen more officers involved.”
Fife Police insisted that every officer available had been deployed on the three day search.