BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Plane-spotters' anxious wait
The 14 plane-spotters in Kalamata
The British and Dutch plane-spotters accused of spying

When the 12 British plane-spotters charged with spying on the Greek Air Force last entered Kalamata's dilapidated court, they were scruffy and handcuffed.

Returning for the trial they hope will clear their names, the group had donned suits and ties but looked no more comfortable. With just minutes to go before proceedings begin, an unexpected demand for a 1,000 bond saw them scurrying to nearby cashpoints, fearing that the trial would be delayed further.

Several of the plane-spotters at last year's trial
Handcuffed at the previous court appearance
"Why should we be surprised by this," asked one of the 12, Mike Bursell, 47 of Swanland, near Hull, wearing an aircraft emblazoned tie. "This is how the case has been run all along."

The group was arrested with two Dutch plane-spotters after they were caught allegedly photographing planes at an air show near the southern Greek town of Kalamata.

They claimed they were innocently plane-spotting, but were charged with serious spying offences, some of which carried sentences of up to 25 years. Those charges were later dropped, but replaced with less serious charges which nonetheless carry potential sentences of five years' jail.

Ill-fated trip

On the wall of the Kalamata court, a vandal has daubed "ANARCHY". This graffiti resonates with the plane spotters. As well as enduring five weeks in spartan Greek prison cells last year, they have been left dazed by the Greek legal system.

Paul and Lesley Coppin of Suffolk
Lesley Coppin, 52, of Mildenhall, Suffolk, who is the only woman among the accused, said that during her captivity last year she was urged to sign a number of documents without understanding what they were.

Paul Coppin, 57, her husband and the organiser of November's ill-fated plane spotting trip, said his previous appearance in a Greek court lasted two hours.

"It was all about me, but I didn't have a clue what was being said."

A military jet screamed overhead as Mr Coppin talks, immediately attracting his full attention.

"A T6 Texan," he says, with a look of wonder.

You get a far better view of Greek Air Force planes flying over the court than we got at the airbase

Lesley Coppin
Mrs Coppin seemed unperturbed by her husband's continued interest in Greek aircraft. "You get a far better view of Greek Air Force planes flying over the court than we got when we were at the airbase," she says.

Though many of the plane-spotters dismiss the charges against them and the legal system which they say has ensnared them, this strange case could have important implications.

Stephen Jakobi of pressure group Fair Trials Abroad said that should this trial go "pear-shaped", the impact would be felt across Europe.

Ripples across Europe

Moves are afoot to create an EU-wide arrest warrant, which would allow citizens of member states to be more easily brought up on charges in a foreign court.

Courthouse
The courthouse in Kalamata
Mr Jakobi said the warrant will work by recognising all EU legal systems as equal.

"What this case has helped show is that all they are not all equal. The Greek system is the weakest link."

Trying to calm the nervous plane-spotters, he said that few EU citizens need fear being jetted off to prison on the whim of a foreign judge.

"The problem is tiny, but dreadful for anyone caught up in it."

As the plane-spotters nervously shuffled passed him into the court, clutching their cash fees in their hands, Lesley Coppin attested to the dreadfulness of her experience.

"What we did spy on was the Greek judicial system. We showed just how awful the prisons are. Now the Greeks are facing lots of awkward questions."


Key stories

FEATURES
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes