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NSW: Ex-police officer who stole chopper bipolar, court told

By Belinda Cranston
05 Feb 2009 7:27 PM

SYDNEY, Feb 5 AAP - A former policeman who swiped a rare helicopter and took it on a joyride says he didn't return it because forecasters were warning of bad weather.

But even after conditions cleared, Mark Cavanagh decided not to fly the $340,000 chopper back to its hangar at Bankstown Airport in Sydney.

He didn't have time - he had to go to work.

Finally, after days in possession of the pilfered aircraft, Cavanagh panicked and flew it to a different hangar and left it there, he told a Sydney court on Thursday.

But guilt got the better of him.

After he saw a TV news report on May 7 about the missing, rare ex-military Kiowa, Cavanagh tried to phone the chopper's owner, but didn't get through.

On the same day he made an anonymous call to police, telling officers they could find the chopper at Taree. He eventually handed himself in to police on May 30.

Cavanagh, 49, has admitted stealing the chopper on April 25 after breaking into a hangar at Bankstown Airport and having the aircraft refuelled.

The next day he took it on a "joyride" to his home town of Port Macquarie, on the NSW mid-north coast.

And so began the series of events, including the weather warning, that he said prevented him from returning it, he told his sentencing hearing in the NSW District Court.

Cavanagh's lawyer Peter Hamill SC told the court his client was medically discharged from the NSW police force in July 2007, following 17 years of service.

The court was told Cavanagh suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after seeing the aftermath of fatal motor vehicle accidents while working as a highway patrol officer.

He was also said to have suffered from depression and anxiety following the death of his father in 2005 and the end of his 21-year marriage in June 2007.

The court heard Cavanagh obtained his commercial helicopter licence in 2000 and took up work with Heli Charters Australia in 2007 after leaving the police force.

"I became employed in general charter operations involving taking tourists for joyflights," he told the court.

Cavanagh's employment with Heli Charters Australia has since been terminated.

Giving evidence in court on Thursday, psychiatrist John Albert Roberts said Cavanagh was suffering from bipolar disorder when he stole the helicopter.

"He acted without any thoughts to the consequences," he said.

Judge Mark Marion was not convinced.

"I don't understand how he (can) suffer from a mood disorder when there is no history of him acting irrationally or inappropriately in the past," he said.

"Everybody suffers from mood fluctuations.

"Where is the history of him acting inappropriately in the past apart from in this event?"

The hearing continues on Friday.