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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Plane-spotters found guilty: Your reaction
Eight of the 14 plane-spotters accused of spying at a military airshow in Greece have been found guilty of espionage.
The remaining six of the group of 12 Britons and two Dutch people have been found guilty of aiding and abetting.
The eight found guilty of espionage were each sentenced to three years. It is understood they will be able to go home while they appeal against their sentence.
Those found guilty of the lesser charge were given sentences of one year each suspended for three years.
The group had denied the espionage charges, which carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a hefty fine.
What is your reaction to the verdict passed down on the plane-spotters?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Volker, England (ex Germany)
I feel that the court result was entirely correct - Is it not true that the lawyer for the "plane spotters" said himself that the trial was fair? That was until he heard the result. If you reverse the situation, we as a nation would surely not let foreign spies walk free?
Maybe if we agree to return the Elgin Marbles, the Greeks will acquit them on appeal.
For those who decided to take Greece out of their holiday destinations, well done! Greeks are sick of drunk British who go to Greece because they think everything is free. Why don't you stick to your local pubs?
Some of these comments have been ridiculously narrow-minded. Few Brits seem to be saying anything sensible. This was an organised holiday. That Paul Coppin would organise a plane spotting trip to a country which is so adamantly against such actions seems a crazy thing to do. We may be lax on such matters in Britain but as has been stated before, but they were in Greece, they follow Greek law, not British, Greek. Doesn't seem to hard a concept to follow does it?
Should we really be surprised by this verdict? It must be remembered that not so long ago Greece was a Military dictatorship, and that democratic civilian government is currently only on sufferance by the military. So if the Air Force wanted them convicted, it was inevitable that they would be convicted. That the court did not find them guilty of full blown espionage was in my mind an act of courage and defiance by the courts. Also do not expect the Greek government to overturn this verdict in the future, as they still remember what happens to politicians who do not keep the armed forces happy.
I'm sorry, I have little sympathy for the plane spotters. If you go to another country you must abide by the rules of that country. Even a written permit should be viewed with suspicion if the person who signed it is not available to escort the said group to an official viewing area and tell them what they may or may not photograph. Believe it or not, we even have some sensitive areas in this country.
Ever since I was a child, my father told me the strict laws about the Greek military (however this didn't stop him venturing onto a military base with me, aged 6, and collecting bullets; a crime for which we could have both been shot.) The plane spotters knew the laws, they knew the risks, and they took them. And they suffered. If you break Greek Laws in Greece you will face Greek Courts and Greek sentencing.
There are two points to consider here. Firstly, you do not jail the citizens of a closely allied country for a minor matter like this. If the Greek government wants to avoid xenophobia setting in its allies' home countries, then the politicians should step in to ensure that common sense prevails. Secondly, we should ask why such a minor "offence" as jotting down plane numbers attracts such a disproportionate response. Could it be that the Greek military is periodically changing the numbers of their planes to confuse the enemy? That would be a bit naughty wouldn't it? Would also explain the touchiness.
Point one - espionage is the gathering of intelligence from a Sovereign State, Company or Institution for the purpose of supplying said information to an unfriendly State, competitor etc. Point two, having been involved within the entertainment side of Aviation for 25 years I understand the mind set of the 'spotters'. However ill advised the actions of writing down an aircrafts serial number or photographing said aircraft is, it's a bit daft that the Royal Hellenic Air Force will be attending various Air Displays throughout Europe this year with the supposed 'secret' Aircraft, I presume in light of their paranoid attitude that they will be arresting everyone who takes a photo or writes down a serial number at an Air Display!
What a lot of people forget is that they (the spotters) had written for permission to attend the air show and were given the OK by the Greek authorities. It was accepted in court that no photographs were taken and that the information available in commercial publications in the West, gave more than some of the Greek officials knew! As one comment states, the Greek judicial system has dug itself into a hole and has to justify it's actions.
The ruling is ridiculous. Espionage? Please. I wonder if the Greek judiciary has ever visited a planespotting website or read a planespotter's magazine. They are full of incidental notes and details...just like the ones these spotters were noting down. They had written permission from the Greek government to do what they were doing and to arrest them on trumped-up charges and drag them into a kangaroo court is unforgiveable. It is a mockery of justice.
The Greeks may have good reasons for upholding this law, but they have failed to explain these reasons to the rest of Europe. It is this coupled with the fact that the planespotters are obviously not spies that is making the Greeks appear inept. Also, by implication, they appear to be sending a message that their tourist trade is no longer quite so important to them as it once was. As that is obviously not true, I can only conclude that their government departments are not communicating efficiently. That in itself is enough to attract derision.
There is a tacit assumption that any UK citizen convicted of a crime when abroad is bound to be innocent. What garbage!
As in this country, ignorance of the law is no excuse. A suspended sentence seems very fair.
The liberals who respond are, as usual, confusing to me. On one hand, Greece has the right to arrest anyone they want, and prosecute them however they want. "It's their right" is the cry. Well then, why don't you let the French vote for whoever they like? It's their right too!
What if the planespotters were from Saudi Arabia? I think many of the people here who disagree with the ruling would have found it fair. I commend the Greek courts for upholding the rule of law.
A loose analogy: In UK there are signs on some Bank office doors forbidding people wearing motorcycle helmets to enter (I expect this is because people wearing helmets might be bank robbers). Let's say you walked into that bank office wearing a large hat. You are subsequently prosecuted and found guilty of intended bank robbery.
But you weren't wearing a motorcycle helmet! - "Well, it applies to big hats too". But you had no weapon on you, you had no motive, you are not a member of any group known to cause trouble to banks - in fact you are actually a local resident of a neighbourhood watch scheme. "Too bad - read the sign and obey the law".
That's what a nation does when it is too worried about its neighbour's military power (Turkey in this case). Every government makes silly laws, its just that the Greek one was stupid enough to try to enforce it.
Dave, Canada (ex-UK)
Most of this cases happen because of unclear laws. People that is not aware should be given a warning the first time, if re-incite then a penalty would be necessary. Greece should not act so extremely rigid.
Those who will boycott Greek products and Greece because of a court decision in our country can do so. They are better off breaking other people's laws and being arrogant on top of it. By the way, you can keep all those drunken yobs to stay away as well, because they are an insult to any civilised human being.
There are those who suggest that they were hobbyists, not spies, and had no intention of spying. But, I ask out of ignorance of Greek law, does the intent matter? Or is the mere commission of the act enough? In the USA and in the European systems that I know well enough to speak of, there are some crimes where intent does matter to how you are charged and some where the mere act is what matters. (This is the difference between murder and manslaughter). In the end, whether they intended to or not, they committed an act which Greece defines as spying.
Jerry Friedman, USA
A lot of the previous comments say that the plane-spotters were guilty (so deserved it) as they were breaking the law by taking photographs. From the reports I have read of this, they were only writing down numbers but the Greek military believed they should have understood that the ban on photos applied to the writing down of numbers as well. The Greek justice system doesn't seem fair, they have been found guilty because the Greek military arrested them rather than because they had actually broken any laws.
Mark, UK has missed the point - there's no point in us looking out for Greeks at Farnborough taking plane details - because of course, by the laws of (our) the country they are in, it is legal! Were it not legal, then we should (and hopefully would) arrest them. Which seems to be what may have happened - the only difference being that it didn't happen in the UK!
I hope that the British authorities will keep a vigilant lookout for Greek and other foreign nationals attending Farnborough, Fairford and other air shows around the country this summer. Anybody in possession of a camera, notebook or pencil - even if you have left them in the car park - you have been warned!
As a Brit living in Greece, one of the islands I'm quiet shocked to read some of the comments. I feel it is only fair to point out that the crime was committed in Greece and therefore correctly tried here and punished here. As the old saying goes when in 'Rome do as the Romans.' I try my best to abide by Greek law, it isn't difficult and if you are not sure I have often found someone local who is willing to explain.
I cannot believe that any court would believe that these people were spying when all the information they had, you could find in Jane's book of fighting aircraft. So who does this court think they are they kidding?
Graham Mallaghan, UK
People talk about further European integration with harmonisation of defence, laws, and taxes giving a common European voice. However, ludicrous cases like this highlight how little the Europeans understand us and little we understand them. Even something as mundane as plane-spotting is interpreted as a hobby in one state and criminal in another. Who were they meant to be spying for anyway? We're all meant to be allies! The Euro-sceptics can sit back and relax, we've still got a long way to go before we get anywhere near a united Europe.
Perhaps Greece has been particularly harsh in response to the British media's coverage of the trial. Why is there an assumption that our citizens will not receive a fair trail in certain other countries? Perhaps the interests of the plane-spotters would have been better served if the coverage had been less jingoistic.
Clive Hill, USA
Why all the fuss? They were wrong to think that Greek law did not apply to them. Why? Because they are British? Unfortunately this is an all too common failing of our race. Judging by some of the comments I have just read, a large proportion of the British seem not to have the intelligence to understand that one must behave in other people's houses. Football yob or aeroplane fanatic, it does not matter, we should learn to treat other people with respect.
I did not realise that spying was so tedious and inefficient (especially if the information was already on the internet). Surely they did not need 12 of them all doing the same thing.
Unless, of course, they were just plane-spotters on holiday.
I will think twice before going on holiday to Greece in future. Sitting back in a deckchair looking at the sea and the sky might be misconstrued.
This is the most stupid verdict. If these planes were so super secret, why were they at the air show in the first place? Unless Greece has developed avionics far superior than the rest of the world, I highly doubt they match the calibre of aircraft I see everyday flying over Interstate 15! Ridiculous verdict!
Dr.George Colovos, California, USA
This situation is ludicrous. Why would one Nato country want to spy on another? Especially when, as it is pointed out on this very site, detailed assessments of military capabilities are shared between Nato countries and updated every year - even Turkey knows what the Greeks have, without needing spies! And let's face it, if Turkey wanted to attack Greece, it could have done so a long time ago.
It seems that this is a case of the Greek authorities having dug themselves into a hole. They had to find the spotters guilty in order to justify their actions.
It is about time the UK Foreign Office did something about protecting its nationals from such foreign harassment and injustice. It should start a counter action on the Greek authorities in the EU Court for malicious prosecution.
UK people could also do something by boycotting Greece for their holiday this year.
Come, let's have some common sense in this debate. The question is not did they or did they not break the law but were they or were they not spies? While it's patently obvious they broke the law technically it should be equally obvious that they are not spies and that their intentions were not malicious. Any legal system committed to the application of justice should be able to tell the difference - justice has always been about applying the law in a fair, considered and equitable manner.
Dominic Greenwood, USA (British)
So much for our European allies - so much for Europe. Book your holidays in Northern Cyprus, or anywhere but Greece and their islands. I'm off to Malta and Canada - no euros, and two countries that still regard us as friends.
Many people both Greek and British have commented here that the plane-spotters broke local laws and so were properly convicted and should have no complaint. This is nonsense. Some laws are draconian, antiquated and stupid. Of course the Greeks can legislate any way they want to at home, but as a wider European community we are under no obligation to accept this as reasonable.
Greece has been added to my list of countries to stay away from. Twelve "anoraks" doing plane spotting in the US or the UK would not be news, even after September 11. Yes, they were in Greece and subject to Greek laws. All the more reason to skip future visits to Greece, especially for the next Olympics. If you are a plane spotter, own a camera, a notepad or an aircraft receiver, stay away!
The spotters apparently broke the letter of the law but I think a further custodial sentence, especially after time already spent on remand is excessively harsh. These are ordinary people with a harmless if rather strange hobby. I think that an expulsion order would have saved face for everyone and laid the matter to rest.
We would do well in northern Europe to note that the European Central Bank is about to get a Greek vice-chairman. Let us hope he is more European than Greek judges?
To those of you that continue to say they took photos, get your facts right, they only made notes and that is what they were guilty of.
Taking photographs at military base is a sensitive issue anywhere let alone Greece.
Where does Brussels stand in all of this? Surely one EU member could compromise with another. On appeal, Greece should waive all charges to demonstrate there is no ill will.
Greece is naive to believe there will not be massive repercussions from this verdict. If people are not able to go to Greece and indulge in their personal (innocent) passtimes without the possibility of arrest then no tourist should take the risk of visiting in case they fall foul of this ludicrous system. The trial was fundamentally flawed, these people did not get proper justice and Greece has proved that they are not worthy of sitting at the European table of civilised nations.
So the spotters are spies according to the Greeks. Britain must therefore be a hostile enemy country! Perhaps they should consider leaving Nato.
They were breaking the law and the lesson is clear. Ignorance is no defence, so make sure that what you're doing is legal when in another country.
I had never heard of plane-spotting until this case; nor had Greek air force officers. The persons seem to be mainly approaching middle age. Some of them had been at some earlier stage to Turkey. I hope RAF police would check persons of foreign extraction who were hanging around RAF or USAF bases and making notes.
There may be more to this case than the British (and Dutch?) media would have us believe.
Martin James, UK
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, it does appear rather bizarre to organise an official aviation open day if Greek military security is really such a sensitive issue. Other than aviation enthusiasts (and of course foreign spies) who else ever attends such events?
This could have happened all over the world. I'd hate to see what the legal system in the US would have had in store for them. Certainly more than three years and the right to return home during the appeals period.
What a farce. As if we need to learn the military secrets of Greece!!
Antiquated laws matched by an equally outdated mindset. Cold War is over but the paranoia persists even intensified after 11 September.
The details of what happened have not been explained and the media circus (including the BBC) has turned the story into a struggle between the civilised British and them (the uncivilised foreigners). Having said that, I hope they will eventually be cleared, however a bit more respect for other cultures would help.
They took photographs despite the notices telling them not to and they were warned about it before as well.
How the Greeks run their courts is nothing to do with us - these people broke Greek laws and they must pay the penalty however stupid some people might think it is. There are no extenuating circumstances in this case. Do the crime - do the time!
I agree with Joe (from UK), if you in another
country you have to obey the law
and minding of the place and not apply the
laws you are used too in your own country.
So the Greeks acted properly I would say.
Those people trespassed a line they shouldn't have done.
I understand their passion for planes but they
should not take for granted that English customs and
laws apply to all other countries.
If this isn't ridiculous I don't know what is. Is this Europe in 2002 or is this some South American banana republic in 1950?
The solution is easy. Don't go anywhere near Greece. Judging by the reaction of the authorities, they are obviously totally paranoid!
I don't understand why the issue has been turned into such a drama by some outside Greece? They broke local laws (and laws are laws regardless of how stupid they might seem) and have been put on trial and found guilty of illegal collection of state information not espionage. If they didn't want trouble they should have heeded warnings and stop whatever they were doing.
I fail to understand why the media is presenting this as a UK versus Greece issue, and we in the UK are seemingly expected to stand shoulder to shoulder with these people. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the difficult relations Greece has with its neighbouring countries will know that anyone scouring a Greek airbase for information is playing a dangerous game. Once again the arrogant assumption that somehow our legal system is so vastly superior to any other is also something which does not stand up to close inspection!
Three years for sitting in a van doing the crossword - a little steep don't you feel?
Graham Ho, UK
These people were subject to Greek laws, which they broke, and suffered the consequences. To condemn the Greeks for this and to go further and suggest boycotts is total hypocrisy. If people were arrested in the UK on charges of spying, do you think you would even hear about it in the media? And to the person who thought it ridiculous that any EU member state would spy on another - dream on! The UK and France spy on each all the time for industrial and military secrets.
A dozen plane-spotters stand quietly outside a Greek military airbase with notebooks and binoculars, and get thrown in prison for two or three years. Meanwhile, year after year, protesters invade British nuclear bases, cause deliberate criminal damage and take potentially serious risks with both themselves and the servicemen, and they get carried outside and occasionally fined modest amounts for 'causing a public nuisance'. I think I'd feel safer and freer in Scotland than Greece.
This is not about Greeks' difficulty in understanding the notion of plane-spotting. This is about 12 foreigners trespassing designated military bases and breaking the law of the hosting country. These two things are distinctly different.
How on earth can these people have been found guilty of espionage when the information they obtained is freely available on the internet? That strikes me as entirely bizarre. I can see that, if they were warned on a number of occasions to stop what they were doing, then they should receive a telling-off and, maybe, a fine but to send eight of them to prison for three years for espionage is simply wrong. As appears to have been argued in court, espionage requires some element of harm to be done to the country concerned. To my mind there has never been any satisfactory evidence of Greece's military interests having been harmed in any way.
Interesting to read all these comments saying they got what they deserved, typical English attitudes to anyone with fringe interests. They may have been unwise but no way do they deserve years in prison. I will be boycotting all things Greek, until they get some justice.
The whole thing is a complete mess! The judge had no choice but to give a guilty verdict. To do anything else would have made their security services and government look ridiculous. After all they arrested 14 guests who had done no more than attend an airbase open day and write down some numbers. And they would only do that to someone who was a spy. And spies always return of their free will for a trial, don't they!
What I can't believe is the absurd comments on this page. Were laws broken or not? They were, therefore they should accept justice! Plain and simple? Obviously not for most BBC readers.
Oliver Felstead, UK
They knew what they were doing. They broke the law. Now they have to face the consequences. I don't see why anyone has any sympathy for them at all.
The plane-spotters have been repeatedly warned not to take photographs and write down what the military perceives as classified data. Although both UK and Greece belong to EU, their laws are different. I'm afraid that they got what they deserved. They broke the law and they have to live with the consequences. Greece has a quite modern air force (F-16s, Mirage 2000) and it is continuously threatened by Turkey. Both the public and the authorities are very sensitive over gathering military info; the verdict reflects this sensitivity.
Some people just don't seem to care what rules are. I remember being so desperate as a teenager, telling my mother, "No, you can't take pictures at a Yugoslav military airport." Maybe this will encourage others to follow the rules.
Neil Bishrey, France
I think what Greece has done goes against what being part of Europe is all about. The full weight of political and financial pressure should be applied to Greece for this blatant miscarriage of justice. I have no problem boycotting products from Greece as I do from France and others from the UK should do as well.
It's not like the Greek Air Force is a major world player. And of course the notebook is part of the spies toolkit along with the fake nose/eyebrow glasses, newspaper with two holes in it, hat and long raincoat. This was an open day but it seems that the Greeks think an open day is exactly like a normal day but by a different name. The UK Government is doing seemingly nothing. Raise the issue to the EU courts, invade, do something.
This is insane. Have they got nothing better to do!
I have seen people take photos on a RAF station, the UKdoes not think they are spies and charge them.
There was no information that the plane-spotters collected that was not available to Turkey before their visit.
It seems that the criminal justice system in Greece is just as stupid as the British criminal justice system.
Unless the Brits and Dutch had plans to invade that the public does not know about, I view the decision as absurd.
Paul Barrows, England
There seems to be a mixture of confusion on the part of the Greek authorities who truly don't get the whole concept of plane-spotting, and carelessness on the part of the spotters who had been warned. Nobody has won, and everyone looks stupid!
This is utterly ridiculous. As if any British citizens are likely to be spying on a fellow EU country. These people should be freed immediately, before Greece heaps any more shame upon itself.
The plane-spotters knew that they were not allowed to take pictures and yet they did. They knew not to take notes and yet they did. After all, if the information is freely available on the internet, why do what they did? They may not be guilty of espionage but they are guilty of disrespecting Greece and its laws.
Marianna Lamari, Cyprus
What a ridiculous verdict. Do the Greek authorities really think any foreign power is remotely interested in their air force? Having said that we shipping enthusiasts (similar hobby but you need a warmer anorak) have always had to be careful when taking photographs of ships in Greek waters for the same reasons. I would propose a summer boycott of Greece by UK holidaymakers, that should get the verdicts overturned.
The British public should not continually question the quality of the Greek judicial system. They should refrain from being arrogant and condescending against Greece in general. Just because some Brits were fond guilty doesn't mean the system that found them guilty is bad.
Andrew Deakins, UK
Greece is not in northern Europe. Greece has neighbours that threaten on a daily basis its rights.
Does the British public knows that on a daily basis there are dog fights between Greek-Turkish planes?
Please respect our country. Just think what would happen if you went to a US military base and took pictures and kept notes (and had a scanner)?
These people have not been found guilty of espionage but of a lesser offence, that of collecting classified information. It may be unpleasant to some people in this country, but collecting classified information in military bases is illegal in Greece, not least according to the UK Foreign Office Web Site. The head of the expedition, an experienced professional, should have known better. My sympathy lies with his wife and other members of the group that apparently they did not know that they were doing something wrong.
It sounds like the plane-spotters knew that what they were doing and the possible consequences if caught. All the information that they were collecting may well be publicly available on the internet, and also well known to Turkish intelligence, but that does not detract from the fact that they deliberately flouted the law. The military has no sense of humour - they played with fire and got burnt.
They probably deserve all they have been given. If it was about real espionage, the penalties would have been far far greater. Having travelled around Greece a bit during the last 35 years, it has been my experience that ALL airports and airfields, civil and military, are covered with signs forbidding photographs (bearing in mind their civil airports are often used for military purposes as well). To ignore those warnings is naive and foolish in the extreme - even if you have applied for admittance to an airfield on an open day.
I agree with Peter Sykes. Expect to see an offer put on the table to release them in exchange for the Elgin Marbles!
Peter Sykes, UK
The Greek authorities have totally overreacted to this situation. I would also question the actions of our government in all of this. Surely they could have intervened and told the Greek authorities to see sense. It is time the government stood up more for the citizens of this country.
Just because they have been found guilty does not mean the trial wasn't fair. It is fair enough to say that they were guilty of having broken Greek law, they knew what they were doing, they knew the dangers. They are now paying for their foolishness. This is not a political issue, this is one for the Greek courts and we have to respect their verdict, just as we would expect the Greeks to respect a British court's verdict.
There is no excuse for what the plane-spotters did. They were warned three times before, on different air-bases and they ignored the law. Spies or not, they have to face the consequences.
Breathtaking! This verdict sends a clear message to other Europeans that they cannot expect a uniform standard of justice throughout the EU. An opportune time for holiday makers to think twice about going to Greece.
There has to be more to this decision. Greece appears to making a political statement of sorts. I don't recall Greece being a big supporter of the bombs away policy in Yugoslavia a few years back. Anyone have similar thoughts?
Absolute folly! I entirely agree with Gary from the US - this is possibly a politically motivated verdict. Suffice to say they shall at least be looked after whilst serving their sentences - all eyes will be on them! Heaven forbid they should have been caught doing the same thing in certain other countries around the world.
These people were professional plane-spotters, therefore they should know that photographing military air bases is illegal. Even when you go to Greece on holiday you are told this. This group went there knowing full well that what they intended to do, whether as a part of their hobby or not, is against Greek law. They get what they deserve. Hopefully thousands of pounds of taxpayers money will not be wasted in any attempts at an appeal.
I don't believe they are spies, but they can't complain when they have willingly broken the law in another country.
I do not understand what these people have supposedly done wrong. They did not enter Greece illegally, the authorities knew why they were there and the 'secret' information that they gathered is openly available. If they are guilty, then Greece must show why - we will then know to avoid such pedantry. If not, then an apology and compensation is appropriate.
The plane-spotters are guilty of stupidity, not espionage. They interpreted their invitation as a permission to take photographs, instead of explicitly obtaining this approval.
Laws are laws, however stupid they might seem. What I do not understand is why they returned to Greece for the trial. I would not have bothered. Greece cannot arrest people whilst they are in the UK!
As an aviation enthusiast but not a "spotter" I would be very wary of approaching any military establishment in a foreign country with a camera and a notebook. I've heard stories of spotters not behaving themselves on tours before but none of this justifies the treatment they have had in Greece where they have been used as pawns in a dispute between different government factions. I should warn Duncan that the new EU-wide arrest warrant could mean that anyone in this country could be arrested on behalf of another member country for crimes that they are supposed to have committed - even messages to sites like this that may lead to a charge of xenophobia.
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