Operator who flew drone close to Battle of Britain fighter to be sentenced

A drone pilot whom a judge said could have caused a “catastrophic situation” when he flew a drone near a Battle of Britain fighter plane will be sentenced at a Crown Court.

Mark Bagguley was in charge of the device when it flew dangerously close to the wing of a Hawker Hurricane as it flew over Buxton, Derbyshire, last July.

The drone was later seized and Bagguley, 49, was arrested at his home in Chatsworth Road, Fairfield, pleading guilty last month to endangering an aircraft and operating an aircraft out of the visual line of sight.

But at a hearing at North East Derbyshire & Dales Magistrates’ Court in Chesterfield on Thursday, District Judge Andrew Davison sent the case to a Crown Court as he felt his sentencing powers – up to a maximum of 12 months in custody – were insufficient.

He said: “What is very important is the public interest and the need to deter others from this type of offending.

“I am entirely satisfied that a Crown Court should have the power to deal with you, in any way it could if you had been indicted at the Crown Court.

“My only option today is to commit you to the Crown Court at Derby, three weeks today.”

Prosecutor Mark Salt told the hearing that the Hurricane, part of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, was taking part in a fly-past as part of Buxton’s annual carnival.

The Hawker Hurricane frequently flies alongside the Avro Lancaster and the Supermarine Spitfire as part of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which began in 1957.
The Hawker Hurricane, top right, alongside the Avro Lancaster, centre, and Supermarine Spitfire, forms the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Ben Birchall/PA)

A short-term air space restriction banned other flights, including drones, in the area over the carnival which was attended by an estimated 15,000 people.

Bagguley apologised for his “reckless actions” in a letter to the judge, in which 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.”

Derbyshire Constabulary said that the prosecution is a first for the force, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the offences.

Bagguley remains on unconditional bail and will be sentenced at Derby Crown Court on March 2.