A man who flew a drone near a Battle of Britain fighter plane in Derbyshire has been fined £3,000 and given a suspended sentence.
Mark Bagguley was in charge of a drone which flew dangerously close to the wing of a Hawker Hurricane – the last one built – as it flew 365ft over Buxton, Derbyshire, last July as part of the town’s annual carnival.
Bagguley, 49, flew the drone while a no-fly restriction was in place and was only caught when a local photographer on the ground spotted what he thought was a bird while looking through his images, prosecutor Annabel Lenton told Derby Crown Court during what is believed to be the UK’s first case of its kind.
The photographer went to edit the object out of the picture but then realised it was a drone and reported it to the Civil Aviation Authority.
Sentencing Bagguley to six months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordering him to pay a fine of £3,000, judge Jonathan Bennett said on Thursday: “This is an unusual case.
“I have never encountered such an unusual offence as either a solicitor or judge.
“It was mind-blowingly reckless, particularly in the case of an intelligent, middle-aged man.“He is no youngster messing about with a new toy.”
Miss Lenton said the carnival was being watched by between 15,000 and 20,000 people and Bagguley, who had no related convictions, had a licence and insurance.
The father-of-two pleaded guilty in January to endangering an aircraft and operating an aircraft out of the visual line of sight.
Derbyshire Police said it is believed to be the first UK prosecution for endangering an aircraft with a drone.
PC Matthew Moore, a flight safety officer with the force, was asked by the judge to answer questions in court about drone legislation.
Drones are only allowed to fly up to 400ft from the nearest point to the ground without special permission and are not allowed to fly over a crowd of people, Pc Moore said.
The Hawker Hurricane, flying from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to Blackpool Airport in Lancashire, flew as low as 365ft and at speeds of up to 230mph during the flypast, though the pilot never saw the drone.
The Dronesafe app, which informs users of no-fly zones and short-term restrictions, had shown for a week before the carnival that drones would be banned in the area during the flypast.
Laura Broome, mitigating, said Bagguley checked Dronesafe – which is recommended but not mandatory – earlier in the day but when he came to fly the drone, “internet issues” meant he could not check the times of the restriction.
He decided to fly the device anyway, believing he still had about 45 minutes until the restrictions came into force.
She said: “He should at that point have abandoned the flight altogether.
“Once the drone was in the air, upon seeing the plane, he did realise his error and did halt the drone.”
She added: “Mr Bagguley knows his negligent actions could have had very serious consequences and that is something that has been weighing very heavily on his mind.
“It is, fortunately, a case in which no harm was caused and no damage was caused to any property and the event went ahead without incident.”
Bagguley apologised for his “reckless actions” in a letter read out in a previous hearing.
He said: “I wish to state my gratitude and relief that there was no contact with the Hurricane.
“I owe the pilot an apology for putting the pilot and others at risk on that day and can only thank God that no incident occurred.”
As well as the fine and suspended sentence, Bagguley must pay £450 in costs, a £187 victim surcharge and complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
He must also serve a 12-week curfew at his home address in Chatsworth Road, Fairfield, from 8pm to 5.30am each day.
Speaking outside court after sentencing, PC Moore said there would have “without a doubt been fatalities” had the drone collided with the plane.
He said: “Mr Bagguley’s actions on the day were completely unjust and irresponsible.
“For anybody to fly a drone over an event like this, when there is such a historic flight flying over, is what people would call idiotic or just downright silly.”