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New hope in fight to free plane spotters

PUBLISHED: 10:01 07 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

A VITAL report compiling evidence against the British plane-spotters accused of spying in Greece could be presented to judges within hours, it has been revealed.

A VITAL report compiling evidence against the British plane-spotters accused of spying in Greece could be presented to judges within hours, it has been revealed.

British authorities were told the report had been completed and could be handed to a panel of three judges today.

Supporters of the group - who were arrested almost a month ago - hope the judges will free some of the Britons, who have been held in Greek prisons, once they have seen the evidence against them.

The group – husband and wife Paul and Lesley Copping, from Mildenhall, 10 Britons and two Dutch men - have protested their innocence, denying Greek claims they had ignored earlier warnings not to take photographs or notes about planes during a tour of air shows and bases.

East of England Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who flew to Athens to support the 12 Britons, said yesterday: "It's definitely a step forward, they (the judges) could meet tomorrow. Our sincere hope is that they will drop the charges against at least some of the group."

Mr Howitt added he was worried about the group, especially Mrs Coppin, a 51-year-old grandmother who broke down during a visit from her mother-in-law on Wednesday.

Mrs Coppin was told after the visit in Greece's only women's jail that her phone calls were to be restricted to just two a month, but Mr Howitt said British authorities had successfully appealed against that edict.

Many members of the group have complained about conditions in their cells, which they have been sharing with up to 16 other people, and have told of having to be strip-searched and sleep on concrete floors.

Prime Minister Tony Blair called last week on the Greek Government to act swiftly, saying the group were tourists, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke to his counterpart in Greece.

Mrs Coppin is not a plane-spotter, but was visiting Greece because her husband Paul was one of the organisers of the excursion. The group was arrested on November 8 and have appeared once before an investigative magistrate.


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