The businessman who organised a flight that crashed, killing footballer Emiliano Sala, has been jailed for 18 months for endangering the safety of an aircraft.
David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two at Cardiff Crown Court last month.
The plane carrying 28-year-old Sala crashed into the English Channel on the evening of 21 January 2019, killing the striker and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.
The player had been travelling to his new club, Cardiff City.
Henderson, a father-of-three and former RAF officer, had arranged the flight with football agent William ‘Willie’ McKay.
He had asked Mr Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday in Paris with his wife.
Mr Ibbotson, who regularly flew for him, did not hold a commercial pilot’s licence, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.
Just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent – warning it would “open a can of worms”.
He admitted in court he feared an investigation into his business dealings.
A lawyer representing the Sala family welcomed Henderson’s convictions in a statement and said they hope the Civil Aviation Authority will make sure that “illegal flights of this kind are stopped”.
“The actions of David Henderson are only one piece in the puzzle of how the plane David Ibbotson was illegally flying came to crash into the sea on 21 January 2019,” said Daniel Machover.
“We still do not know the key information about the maintenance history of the aircraft and all the factors behind the carbon monoxide poisoning revealed in August 2019.”
He said the answers to these questions can only be established at the inquest due to start in February next year, calling on Piper Aircraft and Air Accidents Investigation Branch to provide full disclosure of material without delay.
“This should ensure that the inquest can fulfil its function of fully and fearlessly examining the evidence so that all the facts emerge,” he said.
“Only if that happens will Emiliano’s family finally know the truth about this tragedy enabling all the lessons to be learned, so that no family goes through a similar preventable death.”
‘Cardiff and Nantes still disputing Sala fee’
Sky Sports News reporter Graham Thomas:
Although this is the end of the trial with David Henderson, it is not the end of the legal arena concerning Emiliano Sala.
There is an inquest to be held next February and Sala’s family are expected to come over from Argentina to attend that.
There is also the ongoing dispute between Nantes and Cardiff over who is responsible for the payment of the £15m transfer fee.
Football’s authorities – UEFA and FIFA – have both ruled on that already and said that Cardiff would have to pay that £15m. Cardiff have appealed that decision and it will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport next year.
That may not be the end of the matter because recently, the Cardiff chairman, Mehmet Dalman, suggested at a supporters’ meeting that even if Cardiff were not successful in that appeal, they may still pursue this matter through the French courts.