Plane spotters prison transfer fear

PUBLISHED: 06:29 16 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

THE British plane-spotters held on spying charges in Greece could be transferred to a violent high-security prison because of a delay in inspecting their photographs, their lawyer has warned.

THE British plane-spotters held on spying charges in Greece could be transferred to a violent high-security prison because of a delay in inspecting their photographs, their lawyer has warned.

The 12 Britons – who include Mildenhall couple Paul and Lesley Coppin - and two Dutch spotters could be transferred to the high-security Korydallos prison near Athens to await the outcome of the intelligence investigation, said lawyer Yiannis Nikiteas.

They are currently being held in a police station in the town of Kalamata, 149 miles south-west of Athens. Korydallos is considered an overcrowded and violence-ridden jail.

The aviation enthusiasts were arrested last Friday after allegedly taking pictures while attending an air force day at a military airfield in Kalamata.

Military investigators alleged the group had also taken photographs at two other military bases, including a Nato base at Araxos in southern Greece.

Their excursion was organised by Mr Coppin's tour agency, Mildenhall-based Touchdown Tours, which arranges trips to air shows and air force facilities in Europe.

The investigating magistrate had remanded the group in custody in Kalamata until today, when National Intelligence Service officers were expected to finish reviewing the photographs to determine whether they contained classified material.

But the team delayed its visit to Kalamata by one day, arriving on Wednesday. The investigation is now unlikely to be completed before next Monday or Tuesday, said Mr Nikiteas.

"This means the magistrate cannot decide on the temporary release of my clients earlier. This will certainly bring other consequences. The people will have to be moved because, practically, they cannot remain in custody in the city police holding cells," he added.

Mrs Coppin's son Steve Warren, who lives in Lakenheath, said he was disappointed his mother and stepfather would not be appearing in court today as originally planned.

He added Mr and Mrs Coppin and their party were growing more despondent as the days dragged on: "There's no reason for them to be kept there, they should be back home."

British consul Donald Holder said the prison transfer had not yet been decided and added: "I would hope it's pretty unlikely at the moment. But we'll have to see."

Mr Nikiteas has submitted a request to have the suspects released on bail, but the 14 members of the plane-spotting group face felony charges of espionage and is considered flight risks as they are not permanent residents of Greece.

"It's still our assumption that the serious charge is unjustified," said Mr Holder, adding the lesser charge of taking photographs in a restricted area "probably would stand".

The 14 will likely be released if the intelligence officers determine the photographs do not contain classified material.

"Of course, any delay is regrettable. But on the other hand, we wouldn't want to interfere with the Greek judicial process," said Mr Holder yesterday. "But I'm not yet convinced there will be a delay. The deadline for all this is Friday."

Mr Nikiteas said the plane-spotters "are now not only beginning to worry, but are becoming resentful and indignant"

He insisted the group not photograph military aircraft, but only old and destroyed planes, and has been explaining the hobby of plane-spotting to authorities.

Plane spotters often photograph or take down the numbers of aircraft at civilian or military airfields and while the activity is quite well known in Britain, Europe and the USA, it is not popular in Greece.

Last month, four Israelis were arrested on the island of Crete after inadvertently videoing installations of a navy base. They were later released.

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