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Saturday, 27 April, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Greeks unmoved by foreign 'spies'
Greek newspaper stall
Few Greek newspapers carried the plane spotters' story
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By Daniel Howden

The conviction of the 14 British and Dutch plane spotters for illegally obtaining national secrets was greeted with a deafening silence in the Greek media and a mixture of apathy and bewilderment by much of the public.

The largely unexpected guilty verdict failed to ignite the interest of domestic TV news, with only state-run ET1 and NET devoting any time at all to the deliberations of the panel of judges in Kalamata.

There are people dying from a mystery virus here and children killing each other in Germany and you want to bother us with people looking at planes?

Market stallholder
The Greek broadcasting standards authority this month forced channels to cut their evening news from a whopping hour-and-a-half to a more digestible hour.

The new format was largely taken up with the ongoing health scare over a killer virus.

Mass market Eleftherotypia was one of the few newspapers to afford any space to the decision in Kalamata.

"The 14 are guilty of spying," declared a banner headline, but the left-of- centre daily was more impressed with the scale of foreign press coverage in the seaside town than the verdict.

Turkish connection

The paper pointed to Paul Coppin's link with Turkey - the only revelation that stoked local interest at the original hearing - as the key weakness in the defence case.

"Shortly after his arrest it became known that Mr Coppin had visited Turkey at the invitation of their general staff," it said.

Early morning shoppers at Athens' central market, braving public health warnings to avoid large gatherings, were largely unaware that national secrets had been illegally gathered or that 14 fellow EU citizens had been convicted for doing so.

Trip organiser Paul Coppin demonstrates his hobby
The plane spotters were found guilty of spying
"There are people dying from a mystery virus here and children killing each other in Germany and you want to bother us with people looking at planes?" was the pointed response of one stallholder.

Those who were aware of the case were hard-pressed to understand why the "spies" were allowed to leave Greece today.

"If they were really spying how come they are going home?" asked Maria Anagnostopoulou as she stocked up for Orthodox Easter next week.

"They should be sent to prison or told they are innocent, otherwise it makes no sense."


Civil engineer Marios Kontopoulos was not alone in seeing a compromise in the court's decision.

"I think it's just a deal between England and Greece. Everyone goes home and the police in Kalamata get to say they were right, it 's too simple to be true," he said.

Meanwhile, coach driver Konstandinos Maralias was worried that the conviction would frighten off more tourists in what is already expected to be a lean year for Greece.

"First the attacks in the US then people dying of strange illnesses and now tourists going to jail - who will want to come to Greece?" he asked.

The BBC's Helen Simms
"What started as a holiday ended as a nightmare"
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