‘Can-do, cocksure conman’ from Letchworth narrowly avoids jail after flying planes without training or licence for four years – in echoes of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hollywood fraudster blockbuster movie Catch Me If You Can

PUBLISHED: 18:20 03 March 2017 | UPDATED: 07:48 08 March 2017

Wes Tierney, pictured at Letchworth's 2013 Armed Forces Day celebrations.

Wes Tierney, pictured at Letchworth's 2013 Armed Forces Day celebrations.

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A self-styled ‘cocksure can-do’ conman from Letchworth narrowly avoided jail at Cambridge Crown Court today after flying aeroplanes without holding a licence or having the correct training – in an astonishing story with similarities to Hollywood blockbuster Catch Me If You Can.

Wesley Tierney was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 14 months, after earlier pleading guilty to five charges – including three counts of acting as flight crew of an aircraft without holding an appropriate licence and two counts of forgery with attempt to deceive.

The court heard how the 25-year-old, of Linden Green, had been charged in relation to three specific flights, but had flown ‘numerous occasions’ over the course of four years.

The case shares similarities with director Steven Spielberg’s hit Hollywood film Catch Me If You Can – a largely fictional story surrounding Frank Abagnale (Leonard DiCaprio), who posed as a Pan Am pilot.

Prior to being sentenced, the court heard how Tierney flew planes from the Old Warden Aerodrome in Bedfordshire and two RAF bases – RAF Wittering and RAF Kirton – for four years without a licence or training.

In 2008 Tierney joined a volunteer gliding squadron and obtained a military flying qualification.

However in 2010, as part of frequent checks and validations, he claimed to hold a civil pilot licence. His claim was accepted and he continued to claim he held the requisite licence which allowed him to fly civil registered aircraft – meaning that ‘on multiple occasions’ between August 2012 to August 2016 he flew aeroplanes completely unqualified.

Among the flights on a number of different aircraft types he took over the course of the four years, he took his former partner and their four and five-year-old children into the air – along with family and friends and people ‘he wished to impress’.

He had no liability insurance cover – and if there had been a crash Recorder Sandeep Kainth told him ‘there was a substantial risk of harm which cannot be quantified’.

Recorder Kainth told prosecutor Alison Slater that Tierney’s case was an ‘interesting one’, adding: “This is about competency and trust. He was never trained and never tested.

“You need requisite stamina and need to have been tested thoroughly.

“Flying a plane is not easy. I know because I have taken flying lessons myself. Flying an aeroplane is not an easy thing to do.”

Tierney, who represented himself, arrived in court wearing a grey three-piece suit and holding an umbrella with a tortoiseshell crook handle.

He spoke in a loud, confident voice addressing the judge directly, attempting to explain why he flew on multiple occasions without a licence.

“I let my lies escalate,” he said. “I let the situation get out of control.

“I was trying to fit in with others. I was trying to be able to fit into conversations.

“The only relief I have was the relief of finally being caught and having my cycle of lies broken. It was a relief not to have to pretend in the bar or the mess anymore.

“I was a can-do, cocksure individual – that was the person I was. My guidance in my teens was a little misguided.”

The court heard how Tierney now works in a London museum, taking home £1,900 a month.

He added: “Stability is not having a job you can brag about to people in a bar or in the mess.

“I’ve learned my lesson. I need to be punished.”

He involuntarily shrugged his shoulders when Recorder Kainth asked him what he thought of the options of ‘immediate imprisonment’ or receiving a suspended sentence, replying: “Either of the punishments would be suitable, but I feel I have already been sufficiently punished for what I have done.

“Being selfish I would like a suspended sentence.”

In summing up, Recorder Kainth told the court: “It is quite clear your offending took place over a number of years. You put lives at risk including your former partner.

“But what puzzles me is this. You took very young children – aged four and five – into the air, knowing full well you did not hold the requisite qualification. Why take the risk?

“Why take the risk with young children who put their absolute trust in you? You simply cannot put peoples’ lives at risk.”

As the judge prepared to hand out his sentence, Tierney’s face flushed and he wobbled slightly as Recorder Kainth told him: “I would not have blinked twice to send you to prison if you had not pleaded guilty.

“To fly a plane you need requisite stamina and training – which was not tested on you. You showed no concern for the welfare of your passengers including two young children.

“Thankfully you were duly caught from doing what you were doing – and the fact you have pleaded guilty means I am going to give you a suspended sentence.”

As the sentence was read out, Tierney nodded and exhaled in relief.

Tierney was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 14 months. He was also ordered to pay £750 in costs and must undertake 140 hours of voluntary work.

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