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Grandmother's strip search shock

PUBLISHED: 06:50 19 November 2001 | UPDATED: 15:21 03 March 2010

A GRANDMOTHER has told of her shock after being strip-searched and flung into jail abroad while allegations of spying hang over her head.

Lesley Coppin's family and the British consul in Greece said they were concerned for her welfare after was arrested while with her husband on a plane-spotting trip.

A GRANDMOTHER has told of her shock after being strip-searched and flung into jail abroad while allegations of spying hang over her head.

Lesley Coppin's family and the British consul in Greece said they were concerned for her welfare after was arrested while with her husband on a plane-spotting trip.

Mrs Coppin, 51, from Mildenhall, was on holiday with her husband Paul, 45, and 12 British and Dutch men when they were arrested nine days ago for alleged spying.

The fate of the 14 travellers will be decided today by Socrates Gavallas, an investigating magistrate in Kalamata, whom they appear before on felony charges of espionage.

He will look at evidence from Greek air force officers, who made the arrests when the group were taking photographs and making notes after an air show at a military installation near the town.

The magistrate will be shown films allegedly showing the group visiting other installations during their trip, including a Nato airbase in the southern Peloponnese.

Three days ago, the party was taken away from police cells because the building could no longer cope with the number involved.

Mrs Coppin was moved 150 miles away to the Korydalos high-security prison. It is an overcrowded women's prison with a reputation for violence. Her husband and the other men were moved to a separate jail.

Her son Steve Warren, who lives at Lakenheath, said his mother had managed to obtain a phonecard and ring him from the prison at the weekend. He added Mrs Coppin was in a distressed state during the eight-minute call.

"She was strip-searched and thrown in a cell with a large number of other women, none of whom can speak English, and she feels degraded. She has suffered from asthma all her life and has no inhaler, so she is frightened," he claimed.

"She was not even on the base when the other plane-spotters were arrested, but she is still being treated like a criminal. She does not know if she will face any blanket charges simply because she was part of the group."

Mr Warren added his mother was not interested in aircraft and had only gone on the trip with her enthusiast husband, who organises plane-spotting trips through his company Touchdown Tours, to see Athens and have a delayed honeymoon.

"She was sitting in the van doing a crossword. The rest of the group were not even taking pictures at the time they were arrested," he said.

"The last two days of the trip were supposed to be a delayed honeymoon – that and the history of Athens is the only reason my mother went."

British consul David Holder said Mrs Coppin was in "terrible shock and very depressed because she is separated from her husband".

Meanwhile, Suffolk-based Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden has raised the issue in the European Parliament and met Mr Warren to reassure him all political channels were being pursued to try to secure the release of the group at today's hearing.

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