Jail threat to trainer who lied over death crash pilot

Flight instructor Ian King. Below: Paul and Linda Spencer.
Flight instructor Ian King. Below: Paul and Linda Spencer.
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A flying instructor has been told he could face a jail sentence after he was convicted of lying to help a millionaire businessman get a helicopter licence, a month before he crashed, killing himself and his wife.

Former Army captain Ian King, 53, had displayed a “gross breach of trust” by certifying Paul Spencer’s training records were correct when the businessman applied for his licence to the Civil Aviation Authority in December 2007, Judge Tom Bayliss QC said yesterday.

Paul and Linda Spencer

Paul and Linda Spencer

Mr Spencer and his wife Linda, from Brighouse, who ran Country Baskets in East Ardsley, Leeds, both died when a Westland Gazelle helicopter he was piloting crashed in the grounds of Rudding Park, Harrogate, on January 26, 2008.

The couple had recently returned from a Caribbean holiday and were using a newly-bought helicopter.

King, of Burns Way, Clifford, Wetherby, was unanimously found guilty by a jury at Leeds Crown Court yesterday of making a false representation to the CAA on Mr Spencer’s behalf to help him get his licence.

He confirmed his pupil’s flying hours and that he had completed all the exercises required when, Martin Goudie, prosecuting, told the court, the instructor knew the logbook being submitted was a work of “fiction”.

He suggested King lied about his pupil completing all the required training so he could get the licence more quickly.

Sentence was adjourned until next month for a report to be prepared on King but Judge Bayliss told him: “It is in my judgment a serious matter which involves a breach of the trust that was placed in you by the Civil Aviation Authority and shows a disregard on your part for the requirements imposed by the CAA.

“You ought to be under no illusion that in adjourning the case today for a report I am giving no indication that it is going to be dealt with by any other way than custody.”

The court heard King, who was convicted and fined in Leeds Magistrates Court for failing to produce his own logbook records, was suspended as an instructor in 2009.

He also has another previous conviction in January 2006 for breaching another regulation by flying passengers in a foreign-registered helicopter without permission.

Mr Spencer was an experienced and qualified fixed-wing aircraft pilot when he began training on helicopters in 2007, initially at Sheffield but then later from Beverley where King supervised his training.

But the jury heard that after Mr Spencer’s death his son-in-law discovered an unofficial flying log which appeared to show much of his training had been done before official permission was granted to begin formal training in November 2007 when the hours would not count towards the required flying time.

King disputed that and told the jury Mr Spencer had done all the required exercises and flying hours at the right time.

He said that on December 5, 2007 when he signed Mr Spencer’s logbook the businessman had entered the correct duration of flights but the columns for arrival and departure times were left blank “when he left me”.

They did not have to be filled in and he said he had told Mr Spencer he could do that himself later if he wanted and it appeared Mr Spencer had filled some incorrect timings but the flights had happened.

He said he used his own handwritten notes on the training flights for Mr Spencer to fill in the details of which exercises were completed during each flight.

King accepted in evidence that three exercises had not been recorded as having been completed but told the court they had been done. “It was just an error,” he added.

Mr Goudie suggested the exercises were left out because they never took place.

“They did,” replied King, who said there was no way Mr Spencer could have passed his skills test without having done all the required exercises.

“He was diligent in everything he did in flying,” he said. “He was just a pure delight to fly with and teach.”

By November when he began official training he said they did not need to go through the full exercise briefings again because he was by then experienced, which shortened the time needed.

King told the jury his reputation was very important to him and he would not have allowed any pupil to go for a skills test and apply for a licence who was not up to it.

He said Mr Spencer was keen to get his licence and was determined to fly intensively once his permission had come through.

The full inquest into the couple’s death has yet to be held.