British Airways staff have been praised for the "calm and professional way" they dealt with a man who sparked a bomb scare on a flight heading for Gatwick.

Auburn Mason, 62, held a pair of scissors to the throat of a flight attendant and had a tape recorder in his other hand, which he claimed was a bomb.

Mason, said to be the father of 21 children, was jailed for four years yesterday by Chichester Crown Court after he admitted causing a bomb hoax on the BA flight from Zurich in July.

The court heard how Captain Rory Cavendish was forced to let his co-pilot land the City Flyer flight from Switzerland while he sat next to Mason in the business class section to keep him calm.

Mason had been deported from Switzerland when refused political asylum and was put on a flight back to his native Trinidad, via Gatwick.

Dreadlocked Mason grabbed stewardess Sandra Jeffries during the flight, holding scissors to her throat and leaving several wounds.

He had a tape recorder in his other hand and claimed it was a bomb, shouting: "I might as well do it. It makes no difference to me, I'm dead anyway."

Mason ordered Captain Cavendish to take the plane to Gatwick. The court heard he calmed down when told that was already the destination.

Mason also demanded that representatives from Amnesty International should meet the plane when it landed.

Jamie Porter, defending, said Mason was a steel band musician who had visited England regularly to take part in the Notting Hill Carnival.

He said the father-of-21 had once been jailed for ten years for a bank robbery in Barbados but had never been in trouble in this country.

He said Mason feared for his life if he was sent back to Trinidad because of past political activities.

Judge Anthony Thorpe told Mason: "You clearly terrified the crew and passengers of that plane and forced the co-pilot to land it alone, which meant a layer of safety checks were taken out of the system, so you clearly exposed 91 passengers and the crew to risk.

"I have no doubt the co-pilot found the threat of the bomb very distracting when he was attempting to land that aircraft. It does not bear thinking about that there might have been a crash as the result of your actions."

The judge said Mrs Jeffries had been "traumatised by this dreadful experience" and passengers who were nearby must have been terrified.

He said: "I am very impressed by the high degree of professionalism displayed by all the airline staff to clearly put the safety of the passengers first with no regard to their own safety.

"The travelling public will be reassured to hear of the calmness displayed by a BA crew in the face of the very real threat you posed."