UK plane-spotters face spying charge

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The Independent Online

Freedom hopes were dashed today for a group of British plane-spotters held in Greece on suspicion of spying.

The 12 Britons, detained on 8 November in the south eastern town of Kalamata, remained in custody after experts from the Greek air force examined intelligence reports on photographs and notebooks belonging to them.

A lawyer for the group, who had hoped that charges might be reduced or dropped altogether, said there was bad news from the report.

Yannis Zacharias said: "It seems that the experts from the air force, in their report, produced findings that not only support the existing charges, but have led the investigating judge to prepare to bring further charges against these people."

A new charge would be trespass at an airfield which no civilian could approach, he said.

They would be brought back before the judge either at the end of this week or next Monday, he said.

Mr Zacharias suggested that their defence should be "individualised".

"I believe the majority of these people had nothing to do with the incidents," he said.

Eleven British and two Dutch men are being held in a prison in Nafplion, 80 miles from Athens. One British woman is in the Korydallos high security prison in the capital's suburbs - the only one in the area with a women's wing.

They were all initially accused of taking photographs of a military air base, but the charges were increased to full-blown espionage after the discovery of notebooks allegedly containing details of two other airfields, including a Nato base at Araxos in southern Greece.

They all deny taking photographs inside a restricted military zone, which carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence in Greece, and is treated harshly because of the country's tense military situation with Turkey.

The judge yesterday deferred his decision for 24 hours while awaiting the experts' report.

Mr Zacharias said yesterday he understood the judge was not prepared to drop the charges as there appeared to be some evidence against the plane-spotters.

The group's lawyers have faced difficulties explaining plane-spotting to the court. Mr Zacharias said it was "not a well-known hobby in Greece".

Grandmother Lesley Coppin, 51, was separated from the others when they were transferred from police holding cells where they were originally held.

Her husband Paul, from Mildenhall, Suffolk, is the boss of Touchdown Tours, the company responsible for arranging the week-long trip.

Greek police have named the Britons as: Peter Norris, 52; Antoni Adamiak, 37; Steven Rush, 38; Andrew Jenkins, 32; Christopher Wilson, 46; Wayne Groves, 38; Graham Arnold, 38; Lesley Coppin, 51; Michael Keane, 57; Gary Fagan, 28; Paul Coppin, 45; Michael Bursell 47.

Lesley Coppin's sister Dierdre Bowden said today: "My reaction to this is total shock. This isn't what we were expecting at all. I just can't understand it."

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