Russian Fined for Using Cellphone

MANCHESTER, England -- After spending three nights in a British jail for refusing to switch off his mobile phone during a flight from London to Manchester, the deputy commercial director of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works was fined ?2,500 ($3,875) on Friday and released.

Sergei Lebedev was arrested late Monday upon arrival in Manchester Airport. The pilot had had to abort the first landing attempt because the crew had been too busy trying to get Lebedev to turn off his phone that they had not properly prepared the plane for landing, prosecutors said.

Appearing before magistrates Tuesday, Lebed pleaded guilty to endangering an aircraft and refusing to comply with the captain's orders. He was denied bail on the grounds he was likely to flee to Russia. The case was sent to Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court, with sentencing set for Nov. 7, but the case was later moved up to Friday.

Prosecutor Mark Monaghan told the court Friday that the pilot delayed the landing because there was not enough time to store away equipment in the galley area and that Lebedev had caused a "slight fracas."

"Lebedev started shouting at crew, and he was arrested for a minor public order offense when he put his hand on the first officer's neck," Monaghan said.

"He was interviewed, and he said that he did not understand the dangers but only thought it was a danger if the phone was being used. He accepted his phone was on for the duration of the flight."

Defense lawyer John Potter said Lebedev did not understand the need to have his phone switched off.

"Mr. Lebedev thought the warning was the phone should not be used," Potter said. "He assured them that he was not going to use the phone.

"When he turned it off, he did it in a cooperative manner. He did not key in his personal pin number to allow him to make a call."

Judge Adrian Lyon fined Lebedev ?2,500 and ordered him to pay court costs of ?150.

"The use of mobile phones and the switching on of mobile phones on planes is dangerous," Lyon said. "It's an offense which has to be marked seriously. Even more so because it required members of staff to concentrate on you rather than securing the airplane.

"But this case is different. This is not a case of a drunken person behaving badly on a flight. I note that you have had your first taste of imprisonment and have decided you must pay a fine."

Lebedev released a statement outside court through his lawyer.

"He sincerely regrets what has happened and simply wishes to put it behind him and carry on with his life," Potter said.

Sol Buckner is deputy news editor of Cavendish Press, a news agency based in Manchester.