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Arrested grandmother's pledge

PUBLISHED: 07:08 14 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

A GRANDMOTHER has pledged never to go on another plane-spotting trip with her husband as the pair continued to be held at a Greek police cell accused of espionage.

A GRANDMOTHER has pledged never to go on another plane-spotting trip with her husband as the pair continued to be held at a Greek police cell accused of espionage.

Lesley Coppin, from Mildenhall, spoke about her nightmare ordeal from the cell block where she is being detained with her husband, Paul, 45, and their party of 10 British and Dutch aviation enthusiasts.

Mrs Coppin, who should today be celebrating her 51st birthday, denounced the Greek authorities who she claims are refusing to release the group immediately in a bid to "save face" and insisted she and her husband were innocent.

She is convinced the courts will be faced with no option but to release them when photographs taken by the party are revealed to be nothing more sinister than holiday snaps taken by aviation buffs.

Mrs Coppin said she hopes they will all be free by Friday, but in the meantime, everyone in the group is trying to keep spirits high by cracking jokes and reassuring themselves that the experience will one day be something to tell the grandchildren.

The mother-of-two sons, who is the only member of the group allowed to walk around in the larger cell outside the individual barred units, said: "What's happened is ludicrous. The only incriminating thing they seem to have is a picture of a military helicopter one of us took at the old Athens airport. It was taken from the road and any member of the public could have done the same thing."

She said other allegations, which led to the group's arrest and the spying charges, included the drawing of maps and diagrams of buildings on the three Greek bases the party had visited.

"There are no maps or diagrams _ they simply don't exist. What has happened is the authorities have dug a hole they can't climb out of and keeping us here is a face saving exercise.

"We were bitterly disappointed when we were not freed after Monday's court hearing but I'm getting more relaxed about the whole thing as time goes on. I have been told British Embassy staff are working at the highest level towards our release," she said.

"This whole thing has become so embarrassing for the Greek authorities _ the local papers are describing it as 'laughable' and a 'farce' which is only damaging the country's tourist trade.

"The authorities still seem adamant we have been spying but I don't think they've actually seen the pictures we have taken."

Lawyers for the plane-spotters accused of spying said yesterday they were confident they would be released after Greek intelligence officers review pictures and notes they took.

However, Yiannis Nikiteas said he was concerned a delay in the arrival of the intelligence team in Kalamata, 149 miles south-west of Athens, could delay the group's release.

The aviation enthusiasts were arrested last Friday after attending an open day at a military airfield in Kalamata. Their excursion was organised by the Coppin's plane-spotting agency, Touchdown Tours, which arranges trips to air shows and air force facilities in Europe.

Greek authorities claimed military investigators found the group had also taken photographs at two other military bases, including a Nato base at Araxos in southern Greece.

On Monday, an investigating magistrate and a prosecutor ordered the 12 Britons and two Dutch nationals be remanded in custody until the material could be reviewed.

"They are being accused of felony espionage. It sounds comical, but it is true," Mr Nikiteas said. The investigating magistrate "hopes, as we do, that they do not have any classified information".

The 14 are likely to be released if the intelligence team determines the material found in their possession was not classified, Mr Nikiteas said. The decision was originally expected by Friday, but now might be delayed.

Mrs Coppin, who said the group were asked not to take pictures during the trips to the bases and insisted all cameras were left with her in the van, said another of the problems is explaining the hobby of plane-spotting.

"I'm not so interested in plane-spotting and I definitely won't be coming on any more of these trips but it won't put Paul off. He has a passion for it and it's taken him around the world.

"He knows a great deal about aircraft _ it's like football or fishing to other people. But the Greeks don't seem to have clubs of any kind _ they're just getting their heads around trainspotting."

She said she took every precaution ahead of the trip in light of the events of September 11: "I wanted to get some sort of clearance because of what had happened.

"Officials forwarded our request to their chief of staff and a Brigadier General faxed saying we were welcome to come and they would have organised something special if they had known sooner.

"All they requested was that we did not take photographs. That was before two captains at Kalamata found us."

Mrs Coppin, who works for a pizza firm back at Mildenhall, said she was supposed to have spent the past few days touring the ancient wonders of Greece and shopping.

She claimed conditions at the police station where the group is being held "could be far worse" and she was relieved there was no decision to put the group in prison.

"If that had happened I would have been split up from my husband and the rest of the group and that would have been awful. I would have been totally on my own."

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