Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 18°C

min temp: 13°C

Search

Plane spotters face new spying charges

PUBLISHED: 06:10 22 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:53 03 March 2010

THE BRITISH plane spotters accused of spying in Greece will now face a second charge of espionage when they appear before a court next week.

Paul and Lesley Coppin, from Mildenhall, 10 other Britons and two Dutch nationals are now accused of taking notes and aircraft numbers at a restricted military base in Megara, west of Athens, which could endanger Greek national security.

THE BRITISH plane spotters accused of spying in Greece will now face a second charge of espionage when they appear before a court next week.

Paul and Lesley Coppin, from Mildenhall, 10 other Britons and two Dutch nationals are now accused of taking notes and aircraft numbers at a restricted military base in Megara, west of Athens, which could endanger Greek national security.

The additional charge was brought following a review of a report by air force officers, and carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence.

What, at the start, was considered little more than a misunderstanding has now turned much more serious, said lawyer Iannis Zacharias.

"It started as a joke case, but now the case is more difficult for the defence lawyers," he said.

Mr Coppin's mother, Jean Butt, has also criticised the decision to press charges which she described as "ridiculous".

The 12 British and two Dutch spotters already face an espionage charge after being arrested on November 8 for allegedly taking photographs and notes while attending an air show at a military airfield in the southern town of Kalamata.

Unlike the airfield in Kalamata, which had been celebrating air force day, the one in Megara is considered to be a high-security, restricted military area.

The tour was organised by Mr Coppin, whose runs Touchdown Tours from his Suffolk home and takes plane-spotters all around the world. Mrs Coppin, 51, is not interested in planes and was only on the trip to see Greece.

Mrs Butt, of Downham Market, Norfolk, said the strain on everyone has been terrible following the arrest of her son and daughter-in-law.

"13 days ago I was just a mother – now I'm the mother of an espionage spy. It's ridiculous," she said.

"Paul and Lesley are being held in terrible conditions, he doesn't have a bed to sleep on and Lesley has been strip-searched and is being held on her own apart from the rest of the group. She's an asthmatic 51-year-old grandmother, not a danger to society.

"I've now lost contact with Paul after he ran out of phone cards. Up until now the only way he's got any news about what's happening has been through me so I'm terribly worried. I'm not sleeping because when I go to bed I think about the conditions they're in."

Conservative shadow minister for Europe Richard Spring said the Tories were "very concerned' over the case.

The West Suffolk MP said: "We are in touch with the Greek embassy, we are very concerned, and we understand that the judicial process is taking place, but plane spotting is done in most countries in the EU, and is a perfectly legal activity."

Yiannis Nikiteas, another defence lawyer, insisted the new charge arose "from a mistaken appraisal of the evidence found and reviewed by the air force officers."

He said part of the charge was that details of the aircraft in Megara have not been published previously in plane spotting literature, but Mr Nikiteas claimed a book with such information exists.

The 14 are expected to appear in a Kalamata court next Tuesday to respond to the new charge. Until then, they will continue to be held in custody — the two Dutch and 11 British men in a prison in the southern town of Nafplion, and Mrs Coppin in the high-security Korydallos prison near Athens, the only one with a female wing.

The plane spotters will also individualise their defence when they appear in court next week, Mr Zacharias said, despite initially wanting to be defended as a group.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Ipswich Star

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists