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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 11:16 GMT
Blair intervenes in plane-spotter case
Two of the group of 12 British plane-spotters
The group's lawyer had problems explaining their hobby in court
The prime minister has intervened in the case of 12 British plane-spotters being held in Greece on spying charges, it has emerged.

Tony Blair discussed the subject with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis in a telephone conversation earlier this week, a Foreign Office spokeswoman revealed.

The group of 12 are due to face further espionage charges after their notebooks and photographs were examined by the Greek intelligence service.

The group, who have been held in the country since 8 November, are already accused of taking photographs of a military airbase.

High security prison

The spokeswoman said Mr Blair and Mr Simitis discussed a range of issues on Wednesday, including the plane-spotting case.

And on Friday, Minister for Europe Peter Hain raised the group's plight in a telephone conversation with his Greek counterpart Tassos Yiannitsis.

The minister had already discussed the matter with Mr Yiannitsis and Greek foreign minister George Papandreou at an EU meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Mr Papandreou had intended to visit the only women held, Lesley Copping, 51, but is now sending two aides to see her on Friday at the Korydallos high security prison - the only prison to have a women's wing.

The BBC's correspondent Paul Wood said that what began as a joke is now becoming a serious incident,

The group, who were on a plane-spotting holiday, deny taking photographs inside a restricted military zone - a charge which carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence in Greece.

New charge

Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said the group had been warned photography at the sites was outlawed.

A new charge would be trespass at an airfield which no civilian could approach, he said.

They would be brought back before the judge either at the end of this week or next Monday, he said.

Mr Zacharias said: "I believe the majority of these people had nothing to do with the incidents.

He had said on Monday he believed the "most likely" outcome would be that the charges would be reduced.

The eleven British men, as well as two Dutchmen, are being held in a prison in Nafplion, about 80 miles from Athens.

'Good spirits'

British consul Donald Holder, who visited the tourists on Saturday, said they were all in "remarkably good spirits", apart from Mrs Coppin who was separated from the group.

Mrs Coppin's husband Paul, 45, from Mildenhall, Suffolk, is the boss of Touchdown Tours, the company responsible for arranging the week-long trip.

Greek police named the other 10 Britons as: Peter Norris, 52; Antoni Adamiak, 37; Steven Rush, 38; Andrew Jenkins, 32; Christopher Wilson, 46; Wayne Groves, 38; Graham Arnold, 38; Michael Keane, 57; Gary Fagan, 28; Michael Bursell, 47.

The group are expected to appear before an investigating judge in Greece again next week

See also:

16 Nov 01 | Europe
Spy charge Britons separated
14 Nov 01 | UK
I spy ... another plane
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