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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 15:29 GMT
Delay over spy charge Britons inquiry
A policeman (left) escorts the unidentified airplane enthusiasts to the public prosecutor's office
The 11 men and one woman deny spying charges
Greek intelligence officers due to study film confiscated from a group of British plane spotters arrested on spy charges have delayed their inquiry by a day.

The 12 Britons and two Dutch nationals were remanded in custody on Monday, after being arrested for allegedly taking photographs inside a military base following an air show.

They are being accused of felony espionage - it sounds comical but it is true

Lawyer for the Britons

Intelligence officers who were due to travel to Kalamata on Tuesday to review the film, will not now arrive for another day.

Lawyer for the Britons, Yiannis Nikiteas, expressed concerned over the delay - the reason for which was unclear - and feared it could hold up the group's release.

"They are being accused of felony espionage. It sounds comical, but it is true," he said.

The investigating magistrate "hopes, as we do, that they do not have any classified information".

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

An assessment of the group's photographs and notebooks will this week be sent to the magistrate, who will either set a trial date or drop the charges.

British consul Donald Holder said: "The assumption is that if there is no evidence against the people they will be released at that point.

"The Greek authorities are aware of the fact that we would like this to be brought to a speedy end."

Harsh penalty

The charges were increased to full-blown espionage after, the Greek authorities allege, notebooks were seized containing details of other airfields.

The group have denied taking photographs inside a restricted military zone - an offence often treated harshly in Greece because of longstanding military tensions with Turkey.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in Greece.

British diplomats had expected the court would view the whole affair as arising out of a misunderstanding about what the hobby of plane-spotting involves.

The flying club members - who were travelling with an organisation called Touchdown Tours - are being held in a jail in Kalamata in the southern Peloponnese.

British diplomats say they are in "good spirits".

Paul Coppin, from Mildenhall, Suffolk, runs Touchdown Tours and is one of those being held.

Others detained include Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London, Wayne Groves, 38, of Tamworth, Andrew Jenkins, 32, from York, Mick Keane and Steve Rush, the Foreign Office confirmed.

'Disbelief'

Mr Norris's wife Perdita, said she could not believe they were still in custody.

She said: "I had thought they would let them go, I couldn't see any reason why they should keep them there any longer.

"My husband sounded very disappointed when I spoke to him after the hearing, but he seemed a bit more hopeful when I spoke to him this morning."

Stephen Jakobi, of the European legal rights group Fair Trials Abroad, said he did not think the group was getting a fair hearing.

He said: "The judge, instead of telling the security forces 'you've had five days, there's British Government evidence that they are a respected group of plane spotters, it's a storm in a teacup, case dismissed', flings them back into jail, and tells the prosecutors to get more evidence.

"This kind of attitude is a serious problem and it's the sort of thing we all need to be frightened of."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood
"Espionage charges with a maximum sentence of 20 years remain"
Donald Holder from the British Consul in Athens
"We hope these charges will be dismissed"
Yiannis Nikiteas, lawyer for the Britons
says his clients did not take any photographs
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