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Plane spotters Greek jail stay extended

PUBLISHED: 07:12 28 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:54 03 March 2010

A GROUP of plane spotters who have spent three weeks in Greek jail cells for alleged spying have been told could face more than another week stuck behind bars.

A GROUP of plane spotters who have spent three weeks in Greek jail cells for alleged spying have been told could face more than another week stuck behind bars.

Last night an investigative magistrate ordered the case of Paul and Lesley Coppin, from Mildenhall, plus 10 other Britons and two Dutch men accused of espionage, to be referred to a judicial council.

It was hoped at least some of the party of aviation enthusiasts arrested for allegedly spying at a Greek military base would be freed on bail after appearing in court in Kalamata yesterday.

But magistrate Socrates Gravalas ordered they stay in custody, and the group face up to 12 days in jail, according to their defence lawyers.

The three judges on the council will rule if any of the group will have to stand trial on the charges of trespass on a Greek base and taking illegal photographs of military aircraft, which carry a maximum 20-year jail sentence.

Speaking last night from her police cell in Kalamata, Mrs Coppin, 51, said a technicality was holding up the decision making process and she wanted to see Prime Minister Tony Blair speak to the Greek premier about the group's ordeal.

"I am really, really angry, I'm so angry I am stone cold," she said.

"No one can even make a decision. It's a technicality we have been told. We have to wait five to 10 days for a panel of judges to hear it in camera - and there's nothing we can do about it.

"I want to know why Tony Blair has not spoken to his Greek counterpart about this."

The grandmother, who was briefly held in a women's prison near Athens but has now returned to police cells, also said the group may soon face more difficulties as finances start to dry up.

"My conditions are better than the men's cells they have to have a shower standing in the toilet, but money is running out and you have to buy everything in prison including toilet paper," she said.

Defence lawyer Iannis Zacharias said he was troubled by yesterday's decision.

"I am very upset because the magistrate agrees that a person who shouldn't be in jail, shouldn't be held, but then says he didn't have the power to release them.

"Either someone doesn't have the courage to proceed as they should, or I don't want to think of the alternative," he said.

The decision was taken by prosecutor Evangelos Ioannides and investigating magistrate Socrates Gavalas after they arraigned each member of the group separately.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that investigating magistrates have said they are not prepared to drop the charges.

"So they have all been detained for a further week at least, although we've heard 10 days as well. It's disappointing news for the families and detainees. We continue to urge the Greek authorities to deal with the case as soon as possible."

The group was arrested three weeks ago for allegedly taking photographs and making notes about planes at a military air base.

Greek authorities claim the group - who were on a tour of air shows - were warned three times before the arrests not to photograph military bases and had taken notes at the Megara military base and a Nato base.

Mr Zacharias blamed the arrests on tension over security in the wake of September 11 and the build up to Greece hosting the 2004 Olympic Games.

Newly-married grandmother Mrs Coppin, was with the group for a late honeymoon in Athens following the five-day plane spotting tour organised by her 45-year-old husband through his Touchdown Tours agency.

Mrs Coppin has said she would rather die than spend 20 years in a Greek jail and if released before her husband would devote herself to campaigning for his freedom.

"I would try to escape and get myself shot because it has got to be a better way of finishing your life than in a Greek prison," she said.

"The indications are that some of us may well be released but not everybody, and I know that Paul is not going to be one of those people."

Her son Steve Warren from Lakenheath, insists the Greeks have no evidence against his mother, who has no interest in plane spotting and remained outside the base in the group's van reading a magazine while the men went inside.

Last night Suffolk Labour MEP Richard Howitt vowed to fight the court order to further detain the plane spotters and said he would be raising the matter in the European Parliament as a matter of "extreme urgency" today.

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