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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Plane-spotters' anger at verdicts
Lesley and Paul Coppin
Lesley and Paul Coppin were among those found guilty
One of the seven plane-spotters found guilty of spying in Greece has said he is "disgusted" with the verdict.

Speaking in the court at Kalamata, Paul Coppin said: "I'm disgusted with the whole legal system, it's a shambles."

His wife Lesley Coppin, one of the seven convicted of the lesser charges of aiding and abetting, said: "I cannot believe they have done it but I really should know better.

"This is all about politics. They made a mistake and they won't back down."

Other members of the group, including 12 Britons and two Dutch, gave little of their feelings amid chaotic scenes in the courtroom.

'Insane'

Mrs Coppin, who was among those to receive a suspended sentence of one year, said she was "very, very angry" and vowed to fight the court's decision.


It's insane that my mother, a grandmother sitting in a van doing a crossword, could be found guilty

Steve Warren
"Because we have been found guilty we are now officially prisoners and until the appeal is launched the police have to keep control of us.

"We must stay in the courtroom until the appeal is launched."

Her son, Steve Warren, said he was very relieved that his mother would be able to come home.

He said Mrs Coppin found the six weeks she spent in jail after her arrest extremely difficult.

He added: "It's insane that my mother, a grandmother, sitting in a van doing a crossword, could be found guilty of aiding and abetting espionage."

Mr Warren said it had been a "nightmare" for all 14 families involved and they face further financial hardship as new legal bills drive the existing cost of 200,000 higher still.

'Father loved planes'

As Paul Coppin was sentenced to three years, his mother Jean Butt said: "I can't believe this. I mean, my boy has three young sons."

She added: "I mean, who have they been spying for? Surely in the time they have been waiting to go to trial they would know if someone has been having material from them."

Mrs Butt said she did not see the point in plane-spotting, but had taken Paul to Heathrow from the age of five.

She said his father was in the RAF and loved planes and her three grandsons feel the same.


This case is all about Greek pride, Greek nationalism and nothing to do with 12 people and what they have and have not done

MEP Richard Howe

Richard Howe MEP, who has campaigned on behalf of the plane-spotters, said he was "absolutely stunned by the ruling.

"The verdict bears no relation whatsoever to the evidence given. I can only think that there was no prospect of a fair trial.

"We are talking about a guilty conviction, the prospect of a prison sentence even with a year away. These people's lives have been blighted".

He said they had suffered financial hardship with their bail payments and their jobs were on the line.

He described the case against the plane-spotters was "hopelessly weak and flawed".

"It is inexplicable that this guilty verdict has been made. The Greeks had no evidence against them.

"This case is all about Greek pride, Greek nationalism and nothing to do with 12 people and what they have and have not done."

Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP for London, said: "I am truly astounded by the severity of the sentences passed.

"Jail sentences of up to three years are surely out of proportion to the offences involved."


This is very hard justice

Lord Hoyle

She added: "I do not undervalue national security concerns - but the information they gathered was available elsewhere."

Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot and a pilot for 35 years, called the verdicts "unbelievable".

"There is a huge number of people in this country who go from air show to air show spotting aeroplanes, taking down their details, and you can buy books containing registration numbers of aircraft."

Labour peer Lord Hoyle, a former government whip, said: "This is very hard justice.

"They should not have been punished in this way.

"I feel very sorry for them and their families."

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