Passenger sentenced to nine years for smoking onboard an aircraft

23rd June 2017 by Claire Hegarty

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Each time you fly you will hear certain warnings given; to obey the crew, stay at your seat with your seatbelt fastened until the pilot turns off the seatbelt sign and a reminder that the flight is non-smoking.

These warnings are used globally and a surprise to none. Although some remember a time when smoking on flights were permitted and acceptable for many that is a distant memory.

John Cox, a former soldier faces the prospect of over nine years in prison following a decision in August 2015 to smoke on board an aircraft. His sentence was doubled recently which should stand as a stark warning to individuals who may consider lighting a cigarette. Not only is smoking a breach of aviation law but if it results in a fire also a breach of the criminal law that is likely to result in a prison sentence.

The Court of Appeal heard a reference from the Attorney General that the sentence of 4 years and 6 months in custody passed in March 2017 on John Cox was unduly lenient and they agreed. His sentence was increased to 9 years and 6 months custody. His crime: setting fire to a rubbish bin in the toilet of an airplane in August 2015.

An hour into the flight to Sharm El Sheikh from Birmingham airport the smoke detector was set off in the toilet of a Monarch Airbus and a fire was put out by the crew. The pilot issued a warning regarding smoking on the plane – describing such conduct as “moronic”. A few hours later when the flight was 100 miles from the Egyptian coast the fire alarm was again triggered and a blaze found in the waste paper basket in the toilet. The crew were unable to get the blaze under control and a passenger, who worked for the fire service, assisted. There were 201 passengers on board the flight which landed at Sharm El Sheikh. Mr Cox was detained by the Egyptian authorities and subsequently arrested on his return to the UK for an offence under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. The offence of arson carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In March of this year at the start of his criminal trial of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered Mr Cox decided to enter a guilty plea. This plea of guilty was no doubt reflected in the sentence passed by the trial Judge. His sentence reflected the Judge’s view that his “stupid and dangerous act could have led directly to the deaths of more than 200 people”. The Court of Appeal agreed, assessing the level of culpability and potential for harm as at the “ … highest level. To throw a cigarette butt into a wastepaper bin without ensuring it is extinguished would show a high degree of recklessness. On an aircraft at 33,000ft, the conduct comes perilously close to deliberate fire-setting”. Their increase in the sentence passed on Mr Cox reflects this thinking.

Claire Hegarty is an Associate with Kingsley Napley.

She can be contacted at: chegarty@kingsleynapley.co.uk

About the Author

Claire is an associate in the Criminal Department of Kingsley Napley.

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