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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
Plane-spotters trial begins in Greece
The group of 12 British and two Dutch plane-spotters in the courthouse at Kalamata
The group are hopeful they will be cleared
The trial of the British plane-spotters facing charges of espionage in Greece has begun.

The 11 men and one woman took their places in the dock on Wednesday morning as witnesses were sworn in.

However, they left after 10 minutes when the case was adjourned until 9am local time (0700 BST) on Thursday.

The trial is expected to last no longer than one or two days.

Plane-spotters' penalties
Original charges maximum: 25 years
New charges maximum: 5 years
Possible alternative: Hefty fine
Have already paid 9,000 bail, 3,000 legal costs and 1,000 court costs

Lesley Coppin, the sole woman among the 12, said: "It was frustrating that it has taken so long to get this far, and then we went in for 10 minutes and walked out again."

Co-accused Mike Bussell said he had gone into the courtroom with some "trepidation" but added: "We have to be confident, we have done nothing wrong and we will be proving that."

Together with two Dutch plane-spotters, the Britons were arrested last November, after allegedly taking photographs at a military air show near the southern Greek town of Kalamata.

They were held for six weeks and charged with spying - carrying penalties of up to 25 years in jail - although this was later downgraded to misdemeanour charges carrying up to five years, or a hefty fine.

'Misconceptions'

The group have denied doing anything wrong, and before the trial they said they were certain of being acquitted.

They have insisted they were at the air show on the invitation of the Greek authorities, and that any information collected was already freely available.

The case has come under close scrutiny from human rights campaigners in Britain.

MEP Richard Howitt, who is testifying in the trial as a character witness, said he had had concerns about the group receiving a fair trial, but said: "So far, so good this week."

He told BBC News he had spoken to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Wednesday, and Mr Straw said he had spoken to Greece's Foreign Minister in the run-up to the trial.

Mike Bussell seen from inside the courtroom
Mike Bussell: "Trepidation"
"Not that we're seeking to intervene in the case, because of course we have an independent judiciary.

"But we have sought very hard politically to remove some of the prejudices and misconceptions that exist about plane-spotting... in the Greek public authorities, in the media, and amongst public opinion here.

"If we can get that out of the way, as I believe we have, and if the evidence is dealt with on its own, then we are confident the verdict will be one of innocence."

Hobby

Greece, which has a troubled relationship with its powerful neighbour, Turkey, views any potential breaches in national security very seriously.

Plane-spotting is virtually unheard of in Greece, and although few people now believe the group was spying, there has been much discussion of whether, post-11 September, this is a hobby that should continue to be indulged.

The Britons facing trial are:

  • Wayne Groves, 38, from Tamworth,
  • Paul Coppin, 57, of Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • His wife Lesley Coppin, 52
  • Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London
  • Antoni Adamiak, 37, of London
  • Andrew Jenkins, 32, of York
  • Michael Bussell, 47, of Swanland, near Hull
  • Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent
  • Steven Rush, 38, from Caterham, Surrey
  • Christopher Wilson, 46, who lives close to Gatwick Airport
  • Graham Arnold, 38, from Ottershaw, Surrey
  • Gary Fagan, 28, from Kegworth, Leicestershire.

The Dutch plane-spotters are Patrick Dirksen, 27, from Eindhoven and Frank Mink, 28, from Den Helder.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emma Simpson
"They still face a possible five year prison sentence"
The BBC's Jane Hughes
"They're still facing charges of espionage"
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