British plane spotters allowed to leave India following fine

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The Independent Online

Two plane spotters were planning their return to the UK today after being fined for illegally monitoring aircraft in India.

Stephen Hampton and Steven Ayres initially faced up to 10 years in an Indian jail after being arrested over spying claims.

They aroused suspicion after asking hotel staff for a room overlooking a runway at Indira Gandhi International Airport and were 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 jail sentence and or a fine.

Hampton and Ayres, both railway workers from Bristol, admitted the charge and were fined 25,000 rupees (£362) when they appeared at court today.

Defence lawyer Rajeev Awasthi said the restrictions on leaving the country had been lifted and they were free to return to the UK.

"They have been released," he said. "A fine was imposed on them and they are allowed to go. They have pleaded guilty. They admitted they needed a licence.

"They can go back to Britain, a few formalities are left. Their bail condition was overruled, they are free."

Their arrest on February 15 came just two days after a bomb blast at a German Bakery in Pune, the first major strike of its kind in India since the deadly Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

Labour MP for Wansdyke Dan Norris said the men have to wait until restrictions on their passports are officially lifted, which could take a few days.

"I'm very pleased to hear today's decision of the court," he said. "I'm glad that these men will soon be coming home but until they land on British soil I shall not be counting any chickens."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that the two British nationals who were arrested for plane spotting in February have been fined 25,000 rupees each by the Indian courts and are now free to return to the UK.

"Consular staff have been in regular contact with both British nationals and continue to provide consular assistance to them.

"The next of kin and Dan Norris MP's office have been made aware of the latest developments."