Son of spying charge couple's shock

PUBLISHED: 07:13 13 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:49 03 March 2010

WHEN Lesley Coppin set off for Greece with her plane-spotting mad husband Paul she was expecting to take in some of the wonders of the ancient world.

Instead, the 50-year-old has become embroiled in a tale of espionage and has spent the last few nights stuck in a prison cell in Greece.

WHEN Lesley Coppin set off for Greece with her plane-spotting mad husband Paul she was expecting to take in some of the wonders of the ancient world.

Instead, the 50-year-old has become embroiled in a tale of espionage and has spent the last few nights stuck in a prison cell in Greece.

Her son Steve Warren is sure one day his family will be able to laugh about the spying nightmare his mother and stepfather, of Worlington Road, Mildenhall, are currently at the centre of.

Mrs Coppin and her 45-year-old husband, who run plane-spotting tours across the world, were arrested as they left an open day at a Greek air show last week.

Mr Warren, 32, of Lilac Drive, Lakenheath, has taken desperate phone calls from his mother and stepfather over the past few days and said the five nights they have spent in jail have taken their toll on the couple who married last year.

"My mum is particularly upset. When I spoke to her on Saturday she was distraught. Their holiday had gone horribly awry and they had been slung in prison for no reason. On Sunday she was feeling a bit better but it is certainly not a nice experience for them."

The couple were arrested along with 10 other Britons and two Dutch plane enthusiasts on espionage-related charges and were last night remanded in custody after testifying before an investigating magistrate yesterday.

They had been leading the group of plane spotters before being arrested on Friday in Kalamata, 149 miles south-west of the capital Athens, after attending a public event to mark a Greek air force holiday at a nearby military airfield.

"They were taking pictures of a military base. The film was confiscated, they were arrested and then brought before an investigating magistrate," said government spokesman Tilemahos Hitiris.

A team of Greek intelligence officers is expected to travel to Kalamata today to review the film, after which judicial authorities will decide whether to set a trial date for the 14 - or drop the charges.

A decision is expected to be taken by Friday and until then, the Coppins and their 12 travelling companions will be held in police holding facilities in Kalamata.

Authorities said that after their initial arrest, military investigators found the group to be in possession of photographs of two other military bases - at Tanagra near Athens, and the Nato base at Araxos in southern Greece.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed two of the other men arrested were Mick Keane, 57, and Steve Rush, 38. Kalamata police identified the remainder as Anthony Adamiak, 37, Graham Arnold, 38, Michael Bursell, 47, Lesley Coppin, 51, Gary Fagan, 28, Wayne Groves, 38, Andrew Jenkins, 32, Peter Norris, 52, and Christopher Wilson, 46. No home towns were available.

The group was travelling on an excursion organised by Touchdown Tours, run by the Coppins.

Greek authorities in the past have frequently detained and released foreign tourists for photographing military installations.

Last night Mr Warren freely admitted their hobby is somewhat "strange", but he compares it to trainspotting in the fast lane rather than anything more sinister.

"It's really Paul who's the aviation buff and his firm Touchdown Tours has organised special trips to bases across the UK, all over Europe and in the USA," he said.

"It has really become a global hobby for him and he is very much the driving force. Mum doesn't go on every trip but on this one to Greece she knew there would be things she wanted to see.

"She's not really interested in the plane side of things but she wanted to see Athens and some of the Greek wonders which are there. They had even planned a few extra days so she could indulge her passion but instead they spent that time in jail.

"Their hobby is a bit strange but it's just like trainspotting. They write down the numbers on the tails and refer to special books which detail the base where they are stationed, age and manufacturer.

"And you have to consider that this is a middle aged group of people _ hardly typical spy material. What's happened is unbelievable. This is a group of tourists indulging their strange passion for aircraft spotting _ just the sort of people you expect at a base open day.

"We are all shocked by what has happened. It's incredible _ they must have been walking about in their shorts and T-shirts just like any other tourists and end up on these astounding spying charges."

Mr Warren is praying the couple will return safely home within the next few days.

He said the spying charges had surprised them as Mr and Mrs Coppin _ who should be celebrating her 51st birthday tomorrow - put considerable effort into getting clearance from base officials in the wake of September 11.

"I can understand security will be tighter but their first consideration was not to cause any problems. They had got permission from a brigadier general on the base and he had told them they were all right to come on but asked them not to take pictures."

Mr Warren is convinced his parents are completely innocent of spying, and said: "Plane-spotting may be a strange hobby but it's nothing as subversive as spying.

"I don't have the slightest doubt of that and I hope and believe that one day Paul and Lesley will be able to laugh about what's happened to them."

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