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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 20:23 GMT
Greek editor backs plane-spotters
The case has sparked huge media interest
British plane-spotters found guilty of spying have received backing at their appeal from the editor of a Greek magazine.

Nicolas Kassimis, who edits the Greek Radio Telecommunications magazine, told the court the Britons had simply been carrying out a harmless hobby.

Defence witness Mr Kassimis was giving evidence at the end of the first day of the appeal in Kalamata, southern Greece, a year after the group were arrested at a nearby air base.

It is because we don't know this hobby in Greece

Nicolas Kassimis
Magazine editor
In April, six of the Britons and two Dutch men were found guilty of spying and given three-year jail sentences, but were allowed to return home pending their appeals.

The remaining six Britons were found guilty of aiding and abetting and given one-year suspended sentences.

Mr Kassimis, whose magazine is read by aviation enthusiasts, told the court on Tuesday: "If I believed these people were spies I wouldn't be here.

"They're not spies, they're just doing their hobby and it is because we don't know this hobby in Greece."

'Common knowledge'

MEP Richard Howitt told the court the spotters followed their hobby "almost obsessively".

Mr Howitt, who has supported the group since their arrests, said: "The millions of Britons who aren't plane-spotters also find it rather curious, rather weird.

"But we also understand that it is not a crime and it is not a threat to our national security."

Mat Herben, the leader of Holland's second biggest political party, Lyst Pim Fortuyn, told the court plane-spotting was "not only tolerated but encouraged".

The hearing was later adjourned until Wednesday.

Paul Coppin
Paul Coppin makes his case
Earlier, the key prosecution witness told the court he could not confirm whether the contents of the plane-spotters' confiscated notebooks amounted to spying.

Squadron leader Nektarios Samaras, of the Greek army, who arrested the group, admitted the Britons had entered the air base legally.

His suspicions were aroused by their "very careful, very systematic" behaviour, but he conceded the jotting of serial numbers of military aircraft could be a hobby.

In a unique move, the British Government has sent the British ambassador to Greece to attend the trial, where he was joined by the Dutch ambassador.

David Madden, who drove four hours to Kalamata, told BBC News Online: "My presence here expresses the interest of the British Government in this case and I hope the result of the court case will be a good one.

"We have confidence in the independence of the Greek legal system."

Paul Coppin
An air show was advertised in the courthouse
Stephen Jacobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, said he had never seen two ambassadors at a trial in his ten years' experience.

The six Britons convicted of lesser charges have the option, under Greek law, to "convert" their sentence into a fine of 10 euros (6.37) for every day.

But they want to clear their names, even by going to the Supreme Court in Athens and the European Court of Human Rights.

One of the 12, Mick Keane, of Dartford, Kent, has not returned for the appeal, on health grounds, but will be represented.

Those found guilty of espionage were:

  • Paul Coppin, 45, of Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London
  • Antoni Adamiak, 37, of London
  • Andrew Jenkins, 32, from York
  • Graham Arnold, 38, from Ottershaw, Surrey
  • Gary Fagan, 30, from Kegworth, Leicestershire
  • Patrick Dirksen, 27, from Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Frank Mink, 28, from Den Helder, Netherlands

Those found guilty of aiding and abetting were:

  • Lesley Coppin, 51, Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • Michael Bursell, 47, of Swanland, near Hull
  • Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent
  • Steven Rush, 38, from Caterham, Surrey
  • Christopher Wilson, 46, from Gatwick, West Sussex
  • Wayne Groves, 38, from Tamworth, Staffordshire

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