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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Plane-spotters 'ignored warnings'
Lesley and Paul Coppin
Lesley and Paul Coppin are among the 12 Britons
The 12 British plane-spotters arrested at a Greek airfield should have noted signs warning against taking photographs, the mechanic who first found them has said.

But a defence witness said they were clearly harmless hobbyists.

Lieutenant Ioannis Balas apprehended the Britons, facing espionage charges, at the Kalamata air base in southern Greece.

Note-taking in conjunction with other activities may be detrimental (to Greek security)

Lieutenant Ionnis Balas

Mr Balas, witness for the prosecution, said the group should have taken note of signs prohibiting photography.

They should have known this also applied to note-taking and wandering around the base, he said.

"Since photography is mentioned all the rest should be self-evident," he said.

"Note-taking in conjunction with other activities may be detrimental (to Greek security)."

'Like a game'

But the editor of the Greek Radio Telecommunications magazine, Nick Kassimis, said the group were quite clearly not spies.

Asked about scanners which pick up military frequencies - one of which was found in the group's vehicle - he said spotters often used them, and they were harmless.

There are at least 100 Greek planespotters

Defence witness Nick Kassimis
He said: "They're unable to scan coded messages so anything secret the pilot says scanners wouldn't be able to decipher it.

"This isn't the sort of equipment people involved in real espionage would use."

He then had to explain to an incredulous court that plane-spotting as a hobby was not unheard-of in Greece.

"It's like a game where spotters compete to see who can get most numbers," he said.

"There are at least 100 Greek plane-spotters," he said, adding there were plans to allow a special spotting area at Sparta's new airport.

'Acting suspiciously'

The 12 Britons are on trial with two Dutch plane-spotters. If found guilty of the charges they face five years in jail or a hefty fine.

Earlier Squadron Leader Nektarios Samaras, of the Greek Air Force, said he could not understand the group's claim they were writing down aircraft numbers as part of their hobby.

He said they had made it difficult for security officers to watch them, defied a ban on photography and used a scanner to listen in on pilots and staff.

The spotters deny taking photographs, or using a scanner, and say they were taking down aircraft numbers simply for their own enjoyment.

Mr Samaras decided to have them watched after they were spotted acting "suspiciously" at another base.

Mr Samaras said their actions could have led to them jeopardising the security of the country.

Mr Samaras said he had not been aware plane-spotting was a hobby and had no idea it was allowed in other countries.

Restricted areas

He said the group had managed to collect details of planes not visible in public areas during an open day and mud on their shoes suggested they had been in closed areas.

Mr Samaras suggested the group were planning to supply information to update manuals which contained details of aircraft used by European air forces.

We cannot understand the reason for recording this information

Squadron Leader Nektarios Samaras

He said: "We checked through the notes to see what details were written down and we cannot understand the reason for recording this information.

"Based on all the previous information, I concluded the purpose of their presence was to collect classified information."

Prison sentence

The 14 defendants had originally faced charges of planning to pass information on to an enemy of Greece - a crime punishable by 25 years in prison.

They were held in prison for almost six weeks, before being released on bail and allowed to return to Britain.

Another witness for the defence will claim the information the spotters collected was already freely available, particularly on the internet.

The accused are:

  • Paul Coppin, 45, and his wife Lesley, 51, of Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London
  • Antoni Adamiak, 37, of London
  • Andrew Jenkins, 32, from York
  • Michael Bussell, 47, of Swanland, near Hull
  • Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent
  • Steven Rush, 38, from Caterham, Surrey
  • Christopher Wilson, 46, from Gatwick, West Sussex;
  • Graham Arnold, 38, from Ottershaw, Surrey
  • Gary Fagan, 30, from Kegworth, Leicestershire
  • Wayne Groves, 38, from Tamworth, Staffordshire
The BBC's Tabitha Morgan
"The court has still to hear from two other defence witnesses"
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