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Greek embassy to be protest target

PUBLISHED: 08:06 30 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:56 03 March 2010

ANGRY friends of the Suffolk plane-spotters stuck in Greek prison cells on spying allegations are prepared to take direct action to have them freed.

Tony Mardle has known Mildenhall couple Paul and Lesley Coppin for years and said he will march on the Greek Embassy in London with banners and placards and even risk his own arrest to help their case.

ANGRY friends of the Suffolk plane-spotters stuck in Greek prison cells on spying allegations are prepared to take direct action to have them freed.

Tony Mardle has known Mildenhall couple Paul and Lesley Coppin for years and said he will march on the Greek Embassy in London with banners and placards and even risk his own arrest to help their case.

Last night, Mr Mardle, from Isleham, near Newmarket, said Mr Coppin, who is being held at a prison in Nafplion, had called his family earlier in the day and said he was worried about the way the group of 14 plane-spotters arrested three weeks ago was now being treated.

The fears over the welfare of the group, accused of trespassing on a Greek military base and taking illegal photographs of military aircraft, come after they were told they face at least another 10 days in prison before learning whether they will be freed or face trial.

Mr Mardle, who was the couple's best man at their wedding earlier this year, said: "Paul rang his mother this morning and said they were not being treated very well.

"Although they're not being beaten or anything like that, he says they are being manhandled. Instead of being asked to move they are being pushed and Paul is concerned that it may get worse.

"They have all been separated and they are unable to communicate with each other at all. I fear the Greeks have started to react to the adverse publicity the case is bringing them.

"The whole situation is making me extremely angry and I'm considering protesting outside the Greek Embassy with placards and banners. If I'm arrested at least I know I will get fair treatment in the British courts."

It was claimed yesterday the aviation enthusiasts accused of spying in Greece delayed the judicial process by not telling the full story when they were first arrested.

Nicholas Papabakis, a Greek Embassy spokesman, said the 12 Britons being held in Athens with two Dutch nationals also on the trip organised by Mr Coppin's agency Touchdown Tours, did not reveal that they had been warned off another air base a few days earlier.

"Those plane spotters when they were first arrested on November 8 did not tell the whole story right from the beginning and that is part of the reason why the proceedings have been delayed," he said.

He claimed they had already been "very clearly" advised that it was foolish to go around air bases and take photographs in restricted zones.

Dr Papabakis said he shared the concerns of the British Government and the families of those being held, but the Greek Government could not interfere with the judicial process.

But Mrs Coppin's son Steve Warren, from Lakenheath, said none of those held had taken photographs at any air bases.

"It appears that the Greeks are breaking their own laws. None of those detained have even been charged, as far as they know.

"Under Greek law they have three to five days maximum to charge them and if they do not do so in this time they must set them free."

He said his asthmatic mother, who is being held at a high security prison near Athens with a reputation for violence, would be "distraught" about being kept in jail for so long.

"They've been given very firm assurances on several occasions now that those which there was no evidence for would not be detained any further," he said.

Meanwhile Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt yesterday travelled to Athens to meet some of the plane-spotters after challenging the Greek government to either charge the 12 Britons or let them go.

"Those who are detaining these people must make a decision — charge them or release them. They must put up or shut up," he said.

All of those arrested deny spying charges, which carry a 20-year maximum sentence, and their detention has triggered a storm of protest from international human rights groups.

The group is now being held in jail awaiting a further hearing, which will be conducted in camera with only lawyers present.

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