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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Marathon hearing in plane-spotter trial
Lesley and Paul Coppin
Lesley and Paul Coppin are among the 12 Britons
The first day of the spying trial in a Greek court of 12 British and two Dutch plane-spotters has stretched to a marathon 17 hours.

Concerns grew that exhausted interpreters were failing to properly translate testimony from the defendants.

After working for 15 hours straight, the interpreters staged a mini-rebellion and three of the four walked out of the Athens courtroom.

They've been making mistakes for three hours

BBC's Ryan Dilley

"We're exhausted," complained one.

"She (the judge Madame Potoula Fotopoulou) said if we could not endure it then we should go to hospital."

BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley, speaking on the phone from the courtroom, said they were struggling to do their job.

"It's clear they're failing.

"They've been making mistakes for three hours - speaking Greek when they should speak English, and vice-versa - and constantly having to interrupt and apologise to the judge."

Plane-spotters' evidence

The judge is believed to be rushing the case through because a week-long Greek Orthodox holiday starts on Friday, although defence lawyers also requested it be continued into the night.

Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, who is observing the trial, said that with such tired interpreters and a tired judge, there was a real danger that justice will be compromised.

It's like a game where spotters compete to see who can get most numbers

Defence witness Nick Kassimis explains plane-spotting
But he added that he thought the trial had been fair so far.

Meanwhile, the first of the group took the stand.

Paul Coppin, the leader of the plane-spotters tour, gave his occupation as "professional plane-spotter" and explained to the Greek court how the hobby worked.

"There are no rules. There are some plane spotters that would just be happy to watch aircraft, some people like to take photographs, some like to keep records," he said.

He told the court, a brigadier general in the Greek Air Force had given the group permission to visit "as many bases as we could" during open days the Greek military was holding.

Mr Coppin said he had not realised it might be frowned upon to take notes outside an airbase.

His wife Lesley, the only woman on trial, also gave evidence.

She said she was only involved with plane-spotting because of her husband and had telephoned the Greek Airforce to ask for permission for their visit.

'Minuscule' information

The trial has heard from several witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution.

Paul Jackson, editor of Jane's All the World's Aircraft, told the court a 1992 convention, to which both Greece and Turkey were signatories, obliged European nations to be "completely transparent" in terms of military information.

Nektarios Samaras reads from a notebook confiscated from the 12
Nektarios Samaras: The 12 must have wanted "classified information"

He said any information gained by the spotters would have been "minuscule" compared to that passed by Greece to other countries including Turkey on a regular basis.

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.

The 12 Britons were arrested, along with the two Dutch plane-spotters, at an airshow in Kalamata, southern Greece, last November.

They deny espionage charges which carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a hefty fine.

'Ignored signs'

The mechanic who first found them told the court the group ignored signs at the airfield not to take photographs.

Lieutenant Ioannis Balas said they should have known this also applied to note-taking and wandering around the base.

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.

"I concluded the purpose of their presence was to collect classified information," he said.

The case was adjourned at 0144 Greek time (2344BST) until 0930 Greek time (0730BST) on Friday.

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
  • Patrick Dirksen, 27, from Eindhoven
  • Frank Mink, 28, from Den Helder.
The BBC's Jane Hughes in Kalamata
"The planespotters have a flight home booked on Saturday morning"
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