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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 22:50 GMT
Sad wait for plane spotter's wife
Perdita Norris, wife of Peter Norris
Perdita Norris: "Disgusted with Greece"
Many families of the 12 UK plane-spotters held on spying charges are waiting at home for news of their loved ones. But Perdita Norris has gone to southern Greece to be beside her husband Peter, writes BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley in Kalamata.

The first two weeks that aviation enthusiast Peter Norris spent in a Greek jail, accused of spying on the country's air force, was the longest period he had spent away from his wife in their entire 32-year marriage.

That separation ended last Wednesday, not with Mr Norris's much-anticipated release, but when his wife Perdita was jostled into the visitor's room of the notoriously overcrowded Nafplion prison.

"I didn't want to appear too upset because I knew that would upset Peter.

When he told me he'd been charged with spying I couldn't believe it. It sounded so stupid

Perdita Norris

"We couldn't touch, we were separated by thick glass and had to talk over the phone.

"The guards watched over us all the time, and when our 30 minutes was up the phone went dead," the 57-year-old nursery nurse told BBC News Online.

The legal system which incarcerated Mr Norris as a suspected spy baffles his wife, as it does many Britons and even some Greeks.

But the rules which govern Greece's prisons have also proved difficult to fathom.

"I brought him some of his favourite dark chocolate, along with yoghurt and bananas, but the guards wouldn't let me give them to him," says Mrs Norris.

"But it seems tomatoes and oranges are permitted."

Peter Norris
Mr Norris shows off his handcuffs to press photographers

Mrs Norris, accompanied by her sister-in-law Susan, also found herself being berated by her husband's jailers for visiting the prison twice in one day.

"They scolded us but they eventually let us come in. It seems the rules are the rules, but they have been fair to us."

With the dozen British plane-spotters - plus the two Dutch enthusiasts also detained - having been brought to the dilapidated court in Kalamata, the coastal town where they were first arrested, Mrs Norris has at last been able to reach out to her husband.

"I managed to hold his hand for a bit. That was very emotional," she says, standing just feet from the dingy room in which the 13 men and one woman await their turn in the closed hearing being held before the all-powerful examining magistrate Socrates Gravalas.

As she looks at the throng of armed police officers guarding her husband, Mrs Norris recounts the first telephone call she received from the 52-year-old air freight exporter after the authorities swooped on his tour group.

"'I've been arrested', he said. I laughed because I thought it was a joke. Then he said: 'I'm serious'. When he told me he'd been charged with spying I couldn't believe it. It sounded so stupid."

Mrs Norris has been unable to work.

"I just couldn't go into the nursery that first week. The doctor gave me a sick note for stress. I feel I can't properly concentrate or focus on the children."

He would never dream of going to Greece with his radio-scanner... he even left his T-shirts with pictures of aircraft on them at home

Perdita Norris

Mrs Norris was particularly shocked by the arrest because she says her husband was well aware of the special care that has to be taken when admiring the warplanes of Greece - a country distinctly uneasy about the military might of its near-neighbour Turkey.

"He said he would never dream of going to Greece with his radio-scanner [a device able to listen in on the transmissions to and from aircraft]. He even left his T-shirts with pictures of aircraft on them at home."

Ironically, the only passion to rival Mr Norris's enthusiasm for military aircraft is his love of Greece.

"We've been to Greece together many times. Peter loved everything Greek.

"At home, we'd have Greek salad, we'd buy Greek honey, Greek yoghurt, feta cheese.

"Now he doesn't want to know anything about the country. He says he'll never come back here, and I won't either."

Sudden decision

Having radically altered his perception of Greece, have the weeks of sleeping on the concrete floors of Nafplion prison also made Mr Norris think twice about plane-spotting?

He's been keen on aircraft since he was a boy... I suppose he'll always spot planes, but just not here in Greece

Perdita Norris

"He's been keen on aircraft since he was a boy living between RAF Northolt and Heathrow airport. I suppose he'll always spot planes, but just not here in Greece."

The news the group would continue to be held came as a snap decision and they were bundled out of the courtroom by armed police.

As he was led down the corridor, Mr Norris shouted to his wife: "Go home, don't stay here."

But Mrs Norris says she cannot go home while he is being held. She intends to return to the prison for visiting time on Wednesday.

"I can't leave him here," she said.

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