‘Inebriated’ plane passenger jailed for threatening cabin crew and punching seat of autistic child

Belfast International Airport.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Belfast International Airport.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

A man who threatened to kill a member of cabin crew and “repeatedly punched the seat” of a screaming autistic child on board a Belfast-bound flight was jailed for five months on Tuesday.

Jailing 27-year-old Kevin O’Hare at Antrim Magistrates Court, District Judge Nigel Broderick said his drunken behaviour had been “appalling” and was similar to other incidents which were “all too prevalent”.

“What about the poor 12-year-old autistic child who he caused considerable stress to,” Mr Broderick fumed at O’Hare’s defence lawyer, “that’s an aggravating factor.”

While O’Hare, from Keggall View in Camlough was initially jailed, he was later released from the cells on £500 bail pending an appeal of the jail sentence.

At an earlier hearing he had admitted being drunk on a plane, failing to obey the lawful command of a pilot, behaving in a “threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly manner towards a member of the crew of an aircraft,” threatening to kill a female member of the cabin crew and assaulting the same female on August 5.

A prosecuting lawyer told the court how O’Hare was “inebriated” before he even boarded the flight from Fuertaventura, adding that police were called to Belfast International Airport after a report of the disruptive passenger who had threatened to kill a crew member.

She described how O’Hare was “verbally and physically aggressive” to his partner, to a crew member and had made a threat to kill her.

“He was very aggressive to other crew members and swung both fists at the woman, saying ‘I’ll f**king kill her’,” said the lawyer who continued: “He repeatedly punched the back of the seat in front of his where a 12-year-old autistic child was sitting with their family.

“The child was screaming and had to be moved to the back of the plane.”

Having been escorted off the plane by police, O’Hare was handcuffed and placed into a cell van where his behaviour “escalated” as he “headbutted the perspex” and began to scream and swear.

Sitting with “his arms crossed and yawning” throughout police interviews, the lawyer said O’Hare showed no remorse for his actions.

During a plea in mitigation, O’Hare’s defence solicitor said that his client “ readily acknowledged” his behaviour had been “completely disgraceful and utterly unacceptable,” suggesting that if the airline had refused him entry to the plane, then “the whole incident could have been avoided”.

“He was drinking his own alcohol on the flight and had been drinking since 11am that morning,” he continued, accepting that he was “inebriated” before ever boarding the plane.

The lawyer said that in addition to the probation pre-sentence report, there were references from a family friend and O’Hare’s employer who said the incident was “out of character”.

Judge Broderick asked rhetorically however: “I wonder was he aware of his previous convictions,” revealing that O’Hare was in breach of a suspended Crown Court sentence which he said looked like he had been “driving while drunk, injured someone and then left the scene”.

“He is contrite and apologises to all concerned,” the lawyer concluded.

Jailing O’Hare and imposing fines totalling £600, Judge Broderick said that in his view, the “custody threshold” had been crossed and a “clear message” must be sent that this type of behaviour would not be tolerated.

He said O’Hare had not “covered himself in glory at interview” and that he “could have shown remorse” for what he did to the 12-year-old child.

“This was appalling behaviour,” he continued. “It is becoming all too prevalent on aircrafts.

“A 12-year-old autistic child was left screaming because of his actions and this is not the first time he has been violent.

“I am persuaded that the custody threshold has been crossed and there need to be a clear message sent out to others.

“He is entitled to credit for his plea, albeit he showed no remorse at interview.”

The Crown court matter will also be referred back to the relevant judge who sentenced him.