Plane spotters back home after Indian arrest

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The Independent Online

Two British plane spotters were back home today after avoiding a 10-year sentence in an Indian jail on spying charges.

Stephen Hampton and Steven Ayres aroused suspicion in Delhi after asking hotel staff for a room overlooking a runway at Indira Gandhi International Airport, while carrying an air traffic control scanner, laptop, binoculars and cameras.

The men avoided spying charges, which carry a jail term of up to 10 years, but were charged with a lesser offence under section 20 of the Indian Telegraph Act which carries a three-year sentence and/or a fine.

The two men, both railway workers from Bristol, admitted the charge and were fined 25,000 rupees (£362) for illegally monitoring aircraft.

Defence lawyer Rajeev Awasthi said the restrictions on leaving the country were lifted and they arrived home this morning.

"The case was really complicated but respective agencies have played a very fair role and they have not attributed any serious offences," he said.

"The court, instead of giving them prison for three years, appreciated my argument and took a lenient view and cleared them to leave the country.

"Formalities were concluded within a day and these persons are back home safely without any problems.

"They boarded yesterday an early morning flight from India and I just now received a message they are back home safely this early morning."

Their arrest on February 15 came at a time when India was on high alert two days after a bomb blast at a German bakery in Pune.

It was the first major strike of its kind in India since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.