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Spotters know fate tomorrow

PUBLISHED: 07:16 12 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:01 03 March 2010

THE British plane spotters languishing in Greek jails accused of spying are unlikely to know their fate until tomorrow.

The panel of three judges who are to decide whether the group will be free before Christmas or have to stand trial, adjourned yesterday after initially reviewing the case of the 12 Britons and two Dutch men.

THE British plane spotters languishing in Greek jails accused of spying are unlikely to know their fate until tomorrow.

The panel of three judges who are to decide whether the group will be free before Christmas or have to stand trial, adjourned yesterday after initially reviewing the case of the 12 Britons and two Dutch men.

A day after a prosecutor recommended they all stand trial for espionage, the judges began reviewing the matter in the southern town of Kalamata and are due to reconvene today.

But defence lawyer Iannis Zacharias said the panel is unlikely to rule on the case before Thursday, when it will decide whether the suspects should stand trial, be released on bail or be charged with lesser offences.

If tried on espionage charges, the group, which includes Mildenhall couple Paul and Lesley Coppin, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Steve Warren, 32, from Lakenheath, Mrs Coppin's son, said he was disappointed with the delay.

"I was hoping there might be a result today. We're a little disappointed that they adjourned so early in the day. It seems a little unnecessary to prolong the agony of people who are not guilty.

"I'm still confident and positive that all the political involvement will lead to their release at some stage this week," he said.

The group's defence team appeared before the panel of judges in private to argue their case, pressing for the group's release on bail.

"We said what we had to say," Mr Zacharias said. "They showed interest in hearing the whole case."

The constant delays continue to anger the families and campaigners for the group's release.

Geoffrey Van Orden, Conservative MEP for the East of England, said: "I am appalled by the attitude of the Greek authorities.

"The Greek public prosecutor has got this matter completely out of perspective – this farce has gone on long enough."

While Labour MEP Richard Howitt said: "This was our day in court and I call on the Greek judges to demonstrate their independence, by recognising the evidence as a total sham and drop the charges."

In a key 36-page report, submitted to the judges on Monday, the prosecutor argued that evidence indicated the group had been spying, and recommended they all be tried.

Mr Zacharias said the report recommended that five members of the group for whom no physical evidence was found should also face trial because they had provided "psychological support" to the other group members.

The plane spotters have been in jail since their November 8 arrest after attending an air force day at a Kalamata military air base.

They claim they did not violate the ban on photography at military installations and were only engaged in their hobby of observing and taking notes about aircraft.

Greek authorities have said the group was warned on three occasions before their arrest that photography was not allowed in military areas and that their activities were regarded as suspicious.


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