Mother on phone to Briton in Greek jail

PUBLISHED: 06:17 23 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:53 03 March 2010

THE grandmother accused of spying in Greece has been visited in jail by the country's foreign minister, to the delight of campaigners lobbying for her release.

THE grandmother accused of spying in Greece has been visited in jail by the country's foreign minister, to the delight of campaigners lobbying for her release.

Lesley Coppin is the only woman among a 14-strong group of British and Dutch plane-spotters arrested two weeks ago. Her aviation-enthusiast husband Paul runs Touchdown Tours, which organised the ill-fated trip.

The Coppins, from Mildenhall, are among 12 Britons and two Dutch nationals facing charges of spying after taking photographs at two military bases.

It emerged last night the plane spotters had apparently been warned three times before the arrests not to photograph military bases.

Mr Coppin's mother Jean Butt, from Downham Market, Norfolk, finally managed to speak to her son yesterday but said she is still worried about him.

"I am 68 and when I hear that the offences they are accused of carry a 20-year jail term, I wonder if I will ever see my son again. He's also got three young sons and it's hard to imagine what they are going through," she said.

Mrs Butt dismissed reports her 45-year-old son had been detained in Romania earlier this year after entering an air base without permission.

"I asked Paul about Romania and he says he was asked to move on, which he did. He certainly wasn't detained," she said.

Mrs Butt said Mr Coppin was visited by his lawyer and the British consul yesterday and managed to call his wife for the first time since they were separated by Greek authorities last week.

"He said she was crying for most of the call, but at least he got to talk to her."

Mrs Coppin, 51, is being held in the high-security Korydallos prison, near Athens, which is the only one in the area with a female wing. Her husband and the other men are in a prison in the southern town of Nafplion.

The Greek authorities yesterday claimed the plane-spotters had been warned three times before their arrest not to photograph military bases.

They were finally detained on November 8 for allegedly taking photographs and notes at an air show at a military airfield in the southern town of Kalamata.

Further espionage charges of taking notes and photographs at Megara military base, west of Athens, were brought against the group earlier this week. The Greek authorities said the party tuned into military radio traffic to track aircraft.

Mrs Butt last night dismissed the accusations as laughable and said the group was only viewing 35-year-old helicopters, which are already detailed in spotters' guides, from the side of a public road.

She said Mr Coppin began plane spotting at the age of four and admitted enthusiasts could be "fanatical people".

"I think that on this occasion is it is the Greek authorities being over-zealous. This is Paul's third visit to Greece and he was doing the same last year and the year before."

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring, who has been lobbying for the Coppins' release, revealed the Greek foreign minister had visited Mrs Coppin yesterday and suggested it was a good sign.

"I am particularly concerned about Mrs Coppin. To be separated from the others and held in a cell and strip searched is unacceptable," he said.

Mr Spring claimed Mrs Coppin, who is not a plane-spotter, had not been involved in taking any notes or photographs, even if the others were "technically" guilty of doing so.

"I am hoping that on Monday when they come before the judge again that either the charges will be dropped against all of them or they will be granted bail that will enable them to leave the country."

Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, who has also been calling for the plane-spotters' release, said he had been assured by a senior Greek diplomat there would be a "satisfactory outcome" at the next court appearance on Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to have raised the case with his Greek counterpart Costa Simitis by phone on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in parliament, Commons Leader Robin Cook said the Government was doing all it could to secure their release.

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