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Fears rise over health of plane spotters

PUBLISHED: 07:58 10 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:01 03 March 2010

FEARS have been raised about the health of a group of British plane-spotters being held in Greek jails on suspicion of spying.

The father of one of the 12 people detained said many of the group had been struck down by a stomach bug for which he claimed they were not being treated.

FEARS have been raised about the health of a group of British plane-spotters being held in Greek jails on suspicion of spying.

The father of one of the 12 people detained said many of the group had been struck down by a stomach bug for which he claimed they were not being treated.

Albert Coppin, 71, whose son Paul, 45, and daughter-in-law Lesley, 51, from Mildenhall, are among those detained, said he was "very concerned" and added relatives were trying to alert British consular officials to the problem.

"I have spoken to my son and he has told me that most of the men have got this stomach bug and some of them are in a bad way," said Mr Coppin.

"They are particularly worried about one of the men who has not been out of his cell for two days because he is so ill. My son said he himself had been up all night and was feeling very poorly.

"They haven't got any medication, they're not being given any. They haven't even got toilet paper. They had to buy their own toilet paper, but that has now run out.

"My son said he had lost over a stone in weight so far and they were worried that a couple of the people being held were now becoming mentally unstable because of the strain."

"We are very concerned. It's very worrying news. It's difficult enough with them being held like this for so long, but now to discover that they're ill just makes it worse."

Concerns had already been raised about the health of Lesley Coppin, who is being held in a separate jail where she is said to be sharing a cell with 17 other women. Relatives who visited her last week said she was in an extremely distressed condition.

Mrs Coppin is not a plane-spotter but had gone on the trip as a belated honeymoon with her husband.

The 12 Britons - plus two Dutch plane-spotters - were arrested more than a month ago after visiting a military base as part of an organised plane-spotting trip.

Hopes they would be released quickly have been dashed several times and relatives now fear the group will not be home for Christmas.

But Foreign Office officials hope a panel of judges will review the evidence against the group this week and conclude they can be released.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and a number of MEPs have raised concerns about the plane-spotters' plight.

East of England MEP Richard Howitt, who is campaigning on behalf of the group since they were detained, said he would investigate the concerns raised by Mr Coppin.

"I think there is no doubt that their health is deteriorating and that is not at all surprising given what has happened to them. Once again this problem shows that we are seeing mishandling by the prison authorities," he added.

"This is the latest in a catalogue of mistreatment that has taken place. We've had problems with access to telephones. It took nine days to sort out this problem with toilet paper. They are having to buy their own toilet paper and water and they should have access to medication.

"We shouldn't keep having to have diplomatic intervention to sort out problems like these and all we can say to the prison authorities is to appeal to them not to have any more mishandling. It is very, very concerning."

Mr Howitt said he had been in contact with the Greek Foreign Ministry and remained hopeful the Britons might be free by the end of this week.

"My main concern is that the Foreign Ministry are saying that this is being dealt with quickly and there is a 100% difference between us and them on that," he added.

"I think there has been bungling between different offices within the Greek legal system and promises have been made which have not been fulfilled. But I remain hopeful that the judges will make a decision this week.

"The families must not get too pessimistic. Our job is to keep the pressure up and remain positive. There is no new evidence to consider. The judges simply have to decide why these people were doing what they were doing and when that happens, I think they will be freed."

A Foreign Office spokesman said the 11 British men were visited by British Ambassador David Madden and other consular officials yesterday and had not raised any concerns or complaints about their health or conditions.

He added when Mrs Coppin was last visited by officials a few days ago, she appeared to be in better spirits.

The spokesman said the Foreign Office still had no clear indication when any decision might be made by the judges analysing the evidence against the group.


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