The 12 British plane-spotters imprisoned on spying charges in Greece returned home yesterday morning and vowed to clear their names. Most of the group touched down amid emotional scenes at Luton airport shortly before 9am, after 37 days in captivity.
Paul Coppin, from Mildenhall, Suffolk, who organised the trip, led the group into the arrivals lounge. He described himself as "elated" to be back home, but warned: "It's not over yet. We've got to go back there, and we have to work towards clearing ourselves."
Dressed in a white polo shirt, blue tracksuit jacket and beige trousers, Mr Coppin held his wife Lesley, 51, the only woman in the group, as he spoke to the waiting swarm of reporters.
"It was an experience, I can tell you," he said, clutching two bouquets of flowers. "Right now we are just appreciating the freedom and the things we take for granted in everyday life. I'm really looking forward to a roast dinner on Sunday."
Mrs Coppin, a grandmother, has little interest in plane-spotting and travelled to Greece with her husband. She looked drained as she embraced her son Steve Warren, 32. "My first thoughts when I got off the plane were relief, total exhaustion and the sensation of smelling the English air again," she said.
Another member of the group, Antoni Adamiak, 36, from London, looked tired and drawn, but spoke of his relief at finally being released.
"The whole thing has been a massive emotional rollercoaster," he said after being reunited with his sisters, Maria and Anna. "Every time there was a pivotal moment it went against us. It became a juggernaut that was difficult to stop."
Mr Adamiak, who was dressed in a white Chelsea football shirt, spoke of how his love for football had helped to get him through the worst moments of his ordeal.
Along with fellow Chelsea fan Steven Rush, 38, from Caterham, Surrey, he had kept up to date with results via English newspapers delivered to them in jail. The two had even managed to watch the final 20 minutes of their side's recent 3-0 demolition of Manchester United.
"We watched the match in a young Albanian's cell, who was serving 16 years for murdering a Russian with a Kalashnikov," said Mr Rush, delightedly hugging his two-year-old daughter, Isla. "My mum always said I would end up in jail through following Chelsea, but I ended up doing 37 days inside because of the safe hobby."
He also spoke of his determination to continue plane-spotting. "Four of us are still planning to go to Florennes in Belgium on Friday," he smiled. "We're going to watch some exercises going on down there."
He described the spying charges as "far-fetched". "We laughed about it a lot. We were arrested at an event we had an invitation to, and it was a public open day. There was nothing there that was secret anyway. They had aircraft that dated back to the 1950s and they had been sitting around for donkey's years. They had been supplied by the Americans in the first place, and these things have been written about countless times.
"We're glad to be home, but there is still a feeling of bitterness."Reuse content