Relatives anger at month long ordeal

PUBLISHED: 07:01 08 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

FRIENDS and family of the East Anglian couple arrested a month ago on spying charges told last night of their growing anger and frustration at their treatment.

FRIENDS and family of the East Anglian couple arrested a month ago on spying charges told last night of their growing anger and frustration at their treatment.

Paul and Lesley Coppin, from Mildenhall, were among a group of 14 aviation enthusiasts arrested by Greek authorities on November 8 after visiting a military airfield. They have always protested their innocence of the charges.

Despite early hopes their fate would be decided quickly and diplomatic intervention by MEPs, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, the couple and their 12 fellow plane-spotters continue to be held in prison and will not learn their fate until next week at the earliest.

There were hopes prosecutors would submit a report to judges yesterday, after which it would be determined whether the group would face charges of espionage, be released on bail or face lesser charges. However, the report is now expected to be considered on Monday at the earliest.

Mrs Coppin's son Steve Warren, of Lilac Drive, Lakenheath, said he was not surprised to learn of the latest delay.

He added Mrs Coppin and her family had expected the announcement of her release on five occasions since she was arrested, but had seen their hopes dashed time after time.

Although Mr Warren has not been to Greece to see his mother, he has spoken to her on the phone and has also spoken to Mr Coppin's mother Jean Butt, who has visited the couple in prison and expressed concern at Mrs Coppin's declining health.

"I keep getting asked when I am going to Greece, but I can see myself getting so outraged by the whole scenario if I do. We are very angry and upset that we have heard nothing from the official bodies," said Mr Warren.

"The longer it goes on, the more those on the outside would say they wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't something going on. But the Greek authorities are just trying to save face.

"You get the feeling they are clutching at straws desperately trying to find something to pin on someone so they can save face from the initial allegations."

Mr Warren said the morale of both Mr and Mrs Coppin and their fellow plane-spotters had been damaged by their ordeal and the conditions of prison life.

"They have been given so many assurances that the Greek authorities would see the light that there is a feeling of pointlessness. It is far harder to prove innocence than guilt," he added.

"Paul's morale has clearly dropped. He is normally happy-go-lucky, but Jean said he is very down and seems to spend all his time looking at the ground. Nobody looks like the people their relatives know and love.

"It is such a heavy weight to bear. Jean said Lesley felt she was never going to get out. It seems like she is on edge all the time. The reports I am hearing really concern me because it does not seem to be the person I know."

Mrs Butt said the waiting for news from Greece was "horrendous" and the situation was getting worse the longer it went on.

If the plane-spotters are to face trial, they could spend up to 18 months ahead of the hearing in jail, while the espionage charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Their lawyer Yannis Zacharias said the latest delay could mean the prosecutors were considering lesser charges.

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