Son stunned by 'miscarriage of justice'

LESLEY Coppin's son last night condemned the guilty verdict against his mother as a "blatant miscarriage of justice".Steve Warren said he was aghast the 51-year-old – who only took part in the Greek plane-spotting trip last year to grab a late honeymoon with her new husband Paul Coppin – had been found guilty of taking part in spying activities there.

LESLEY Coppin's son last night condemned the guilty verdict against his mother as a "blatant miscarriage of justice".

Steve Warren said he was aghast the 51-year-old – who only took part in the Greek plane-spotting trip last year to grab a late honeymoon with her new husband Paul Coppin – had been found guilty of taking part in spying activities there.

Seven of the 14 plane-spotters accused of spying at a Greek military airshow – including Mr Coppin – were found guilty of espionage. Mrs Coppin and the remaining six were found guilty of aiding and abetting.

Mrs Coppin had her one-year sentence suspended for three years. Her husband and the remaining six plane-spotters were jailed for three years. They immediately launched appeals and were allowed to leave Greece.

Mr Warren, from Lakenheath, said although his mother's sentence had been suspended and she was being allowed to fly home he was furious with the Greek legal system.

"I can hardly process my emotions at the moment. I was mentally prepared for their categoric release without question, especially for my mother who was sitting there doing a crossword when the group was arrested.

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"We couldn't believe the allegations against her, let alone the 37 nights she spent in custody after her arrest, the charges and now – most unbelievable of all – this conviction.

"I'm relieved she is coming home but I'm shellshocked at what's happened. I'm feeling very angry. It's difficult to see any silver lining here at all and my feeling is not one of relief. My mother has still been found guilty and that's a major miscarriage of justice.

"She has been convicted and will face months and months more of this waiting and expense if she is to clear her name."

He condemned the Greek legal system as a "chaotic mess".

Jean Butt, Mr Coppin's mother, speaking from her home in Norfolk, said she found the verdict "unbelievable" and added: "My son has three young boys at home."

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring, whose constituency includes Mildenhall – the Coppins' home town, last night spoke to the acting Greek Ambassador of his shock and disgust at what had happened.

"I told him I think this is an outrage. The conduct of the trial was both extraordinary and bizarre and I have put out a statement saying that the British Government must act to help these individuals in the appeals process," he said.

"Jack Straw must call in the acting Greek Ambassador to talk about the case. This (plane-spotting) is a wholly legitimate activity here in the UK and across the whole of the European Union, of which Greece is a member."

Mr Spring said his sympathy went to the Coppins and their families: "On behalf of my constituents my heart goes out to them. This is a shocking and traumatic experience for them – not only the past few days but also the time they spent in jail previously. They deserve our support."

The Foreign Office yesterday issued a statement saying Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had always felt the Greek response to the case was "disproportionate" and he was relieved the group could come home despite being found guilty of spying offences. It said: "The Foreign Secretary has himself spoken on many occasions to George Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Minister.

"He has always made clear he feels the response to this case has been disproportionate.

"He is relieved that they will all be free to return to the UK. British Embassy officials were present for the trial and are giving all the support and advice they can to the plane-spotters and their families."

Last night a Downing Street spokesman said Tony Blair was also closely following the case.

Local Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden said he was "appalled and shocked" at the conviction and added: "The trial has been dogged by tired interpreters and tired judges and this can only have had a negative effect on the proceedings. The plane-spotters went back to Greece in good faith, but have been let down once again by the bizarre Greek judicial system."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said British Embassy officials were at the courthouse in the Greek city of Kalamata and were in touch with the defendants and offering them whatever help they needed.

But she said: "We can't interfere in the legal process of another country."

There is no specific advice to plane-spotters heading for Greece on the Foreign Office website but it does say: "Visitors should be aware that certain areas near the Greek borders are militarily sensitive and should be avoided."

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