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Suffolk couple on spying charges

PUBLISHED: 08:23 12 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:49 03 March 2010

A SUFFOLK couple were leading the group of 12 Britons who are due to appear in a Greek court today charged with spying after allegedly taking photographs of a military air base.

A SUFFOLK couple were leading the group of 12 Britons who are due to appear in a Greek court today charged with spying after allegedly taking photographs of a military air base.

Paul Coppin and his wife, of Worlington Road, Mildenhall, were arrested in Greece along with their 10 clients on Thursday in the south-east town of Kalamata.

The pair run a company from their home called Touchdown Tours, which offers organised trips abroad for aviation enthusiasts.

The Coppins and 10 men, all believed to be from the south-east of England, had been on a week-long aircraft-spotting excursion costing £650 each and were due to fly home yesterday.

Last night friends and fellow plane-spotters described Mr Coppin, a father-of-two who also works as a taxi driver in Mildenhall, as "an extremely dedicated and enthusiastic aircraft spotter".

Walter Crisp, from Woodbridge, has known Mr Coppin for several years and said: "Paul and his wife are really nice people. My son Adrian and I have gone with them on tours to Belgium and Holland which were very good.

"He's very friendly, popular, polite and helpful.

"When we heard the first rumour that they had been arrested we couldn't believe it. But it is a bit of an occupational hazard for a plane spotter, particularly in Greece and Turkey where the security is very tight."

His son Adrian Crisp said: "He [Mr Coppin] is a decent bloke and I don't know what will happen. I heard they requested help from the British Embassy and I hope they come back soon and well. I hope common sense will prevail."

Photographing military installations in Greece is forbidden, and police and military authorities have in the past detained and released numerous foreign tourists for doing so.

Others currently being detained include Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London, Mick Keane and Steve Rush, the Foreign Office confirmed.

Two Dutch citizens were also members of the group arrested after attending a public event to mark a Greek air force holiday at a nearby military airfield.

Military investigators later found that they had taken photographs of two other bases — at Tanagra near Athens, and the Nato base at Araxos in southern Greece, the authorities said.

Mr Norris's wife, Perdita, said the Greek authorities had accused the group of acting suspiciously in front of an airforce building.

Mrs Norris, 57, said: "It is a joke that he is suspected of spying. When they came to leave the base they were arrested. Peter said he couldn't see any reason for them to be arrested because they had permission to be there from the Greek air force.

"It is terrible for him to be accused of spying. I am just hoping that they will all be set free tomorrow.'

Father-of-five Mr Norris, who works for an air freight company in Thorpe, Surrey, is an aviation enthusiast and has been on similar trips before, one of them with Touchdown Tours.

The Foreign Office last night confirmed the group were being held in police custody.

"Twelve Britons have been detained in Kalamata on suspicion of espionage offences," a spokesman said.

"They have legal representation and have been offered consular assistance. Their next of kin have been informed."

Suffolk-based Touchdown Tours organises regular overseas trips for military aviation enthusiasts, including a similar trip to Greece last year.

The website says that last year a group visited 18 bases in five days, logging over 700 Greek military aircraft at bases including Kalamata.

But it cautions: "I would warn that spotting in Greece is still not particularly liked by the authorities and without our contacts at the Greek Ministry of Defence, which helped on a number of occasions, the trip might have been a little longer than anticipated."

The tours involve visits to plane wreckage, operational airfields and bases and already the company has completed five week-long trips into mainland Europe this year to Spain, Italy, France and twice to Poland.

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