Plane spotters held in Greece face new espionage charges

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The Independent Online

Twelve British plane spotters being detained in Greece for suspected espionage had their hopes of release dashed on Tuesday when they learnt they would face new charges of spying.

Twelve British plane spotters being detained in Greece for suspected espionage had their hopes of release dashed on Tuesday when they learnt they would face new charges of spying.

The 12 had hoped that a report from the Greek National Intelligence Service would clear them of any wrongdoing. But an examining magistrate told their defence lawyer that the report had instead turned up fresh and damning evidence against them.

The lawyer, Ionnis Zacharias, said: "This case, which started off as a joke, has now turned very serious."

The group were on a holiday organised by Touchdown Tours to see Greece's national air day when they were detained on 8 November after allegedly taking photographs inside a restricted military area. Their film and notebooks were seized by the police and examined by intelligence officers.

The magistrate said it was clear from these materials that the group had visited another military site the authorities had not been aware of. He said the 12 – eleven men and one woman – would have to appear in court again on Monday where new charges of spying would be put to them.

The 11 men from the group are being held in a high-security jail at Nafplion, two hours south of Athens. The woman, Lesley Coppin, aged 51, is being held with 12 other women prisoners in a cell at Korydallos high-security jail in Athens, the only prison in the area with a women's wing.

One of the men, Wayne Groves, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, was visited yesterday by his father, Don, who said his son was being treated well but had been forced to sleep on the floor for several nights because of prison overcrowding.

Told of the new charges, he said: "I am shocked. Everyone told us they would be out today or tomorrow at the latest."

Defence lawyers say they want any allegations to be considered on an individual rather than group basis, as the authorities accept this was not a conspiracy. Lawyers will apply for bail for some of the group on Monday. Others may be detained for up to 18 months while awaiting trial. Espionage carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in Greece.

Some officials in the Greek Defence Ministry believe local officers over-reacted. However, others believe the plane spotters' activities could have jeopardised Greek national security and want to see the case prosecuted to the fullest extent.

Although Greece and Britain are both members of Nato, British diplomats insisted last night that the case would cause no diplomatic rift.

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