British planespotters to face Indian court

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The Independent Online

Two planespotters from Bristol will appear in an Indian court charged with illegally monitoring aircraft.

Stephen Hampton and Steven Ayres aroused suspicion when they asked a hotel for a room overlooking a runway at Delhi International Airport.

They were carrying an air traffic control scanner, laptop, binoculars and cameras.

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

The men avoided spying charges, which carry up to 10 years imprisonment, and were charged with a lesser offence under India's Telegraph Act.

Mr Hampton, a railway worker, and Mr Ayres, who are being held in a New Delhi immigration centre, will appear before Patiala House Court in Delhi with their lawyer on Tuesday, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.

MP Dan Norris, who has been making diplomatic efforts to free them, said: "They are not being charged with spying which had a potential 10 years in prison. That is not going to happen now which is really good news.

"They had a scanner, a device for tracking aircraft which these kind of hobbyists use to know what kind of aircraft is coming in so they can photograph it.

"I don't think they can actually listen in to conversations, it's just an information beacon. That's what they are being picked up on, it's a minor charge."

If they plead guilty to the offence they can be fined between £32 and £65 but the judge may make an example of them and fine them more, he said.

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