Plane-spotters due to be released today

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The Independent Online

The British plane-spotters cleared of espionage charges are hoping to walk free from jail today after their families raised the £9,000 bail set by judges.

The 12 Britons are expected to be released ­ with two Dutch tourists ­ although they remain accused of illegally taking photographs of a military air base. The Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who has campaigned for the plane-spotters' release, said the case had been badly dealt with in Greece and showed the need for a minimum standard of judicial procedures to be set across Europe.

The plane enthusiasts, who were arrested on 8 November in the southern town of Kalamata, were told on Wednesday that charges of espionage had been reduced to the misdemeanour of illegal collection of information. Since they were taken into custody, criticism has mounted over delays by the Greek judiciary in compiling the prosecution case.

Mr Howitt, who met Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday, urged him to push for a review of each member state's legal procedures and demand the issue be raised at the European summit starting in Laeken, Belgium, today.

He said: "There was a lack of access by defendants to individual legal advice, unacceptable delays in pressing charges and no evidence to show reasonable suspicion."

He added: "Much of this was against European conventions and, in the European summit, we have an ideal opportunity to make sure we have minimum standards for all legal systems."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said it hoped all 12 bail procedures would be completed and the group could leave together. The low-cost air carrier easyJet has offered to fly the group home once they have been released. The two Dutchmen were due to be released yesterday after their Government lent them the bail money but extra delays meant they too would not be freed until today.

Mr Straw has refused to use taxpayers' money to provide bail and it was left to the families of those detained to raise the cash, which has been done either through their own sources or bank loans.

Dierdre Bowden, 47, sister of Lesley Coppin, the only British woman to be detained, said: "We are pleased that it looks like they are going to be home for Christmas."

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