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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Mixed fortunes for plane-spotters
From left: Paul and Lesley Coppin and Steven Rush
The group want to clear their names
Five British plane-spotters found guilty of aiding and abetting spying at a Greek air base should be acquitted, the public prosecutor has said.

Nikos Panelis told a court in Kalamata, southern Greece, that the convictions had been based on "improper conclusions" about their actions.

But he said the more serious convictions for espionage should be upheld against six other Britons and two Dutch members of the group.

The prosecutor retracted an error he had made earlier when he had said the conviction of Briton Gary Fagan - found guilty of spying - should be reduced to aiding and abetting.


What you have in front of you are ordinary people who have got involved with the Greek justice system

Nikos Panelis
Public prosecutor
Mr Panelis also recommended that the aiding and abetting conviction of Mick Keane, of Kent, who had not returned to Greece on health grounds, should stand as he had waived his right to appeal by not attending.

The group convicted of spying were given three-year jail sentences in April, but allowed to return home pending appeal.

The public prosecutor said: "What you have in front of you are ordinary people who have got involved with the Greek justice system in the context of this planespotting.

"But unfortunately for them, someone who is planespotting can be described as breaking the law of Greece."

Michael Bursell
In the dock: Michael Bursell
The information they obtained was classified and could have endangered national security, he added.

The defence argument that the information was available on the internet and in books was flawed, Mr Panelis said, because they had contributed to these publications themselves.

Lesley Coppin, one of the five Mr Panelis wants to see cleared, said the court should also clear those convicted of spying - including her husband, Paul.

She told BBC News Online: "Until Paul's released I can't enjoy my possible acquittal.

"I'm just concerned that Paul and the evidence against him has been at the centre of this case. I'm very concerned about him."

Obsessed by hobby

Defence lawyer Yannis Zacharias said he supported the public prosecutor and urged the court to acquit the others.

They were "ordinary, working class people" simply obsessed by their hobby, he added, before the court adjourned until 1615 GMT.

Earlier, Mr Coppin, of Suffolk, told the court he had been stopped in many countries for taking notes at air bases but had "always been cleared of any wrongdoing".

Giving evidence, Lesley Coppin said she had sought from Greek authorities specific permission for the group to visit the bases during the open days, and had provided the names, ages, addresses, passport numbers and professions of group members.

She said they had been granted permission and the military had sent her a fax to that effect.

Backing

Two more of the group - Michael Bursell and Steven Rush - also testified, arguing the information they had gathered was not sensitive.

They had followed signs on the base forbidding photography, but claimed there had been nothing about taking notes.

Earlier, defence witness Paul Jackson, an aviation and military analyst and journalist, told the court he believed the group were innocent.

Paul Coppin
Paul Coppin makes his case
"Obviously they did not think they were breaking the law, they kept to the law about photography, the law as they knew it," he said.

On Tuesday, the group's appeal was backed by a Greek magazine editor at the hearing.

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

And the army squadron leader who arrested the group conceded taking aircraft numbers could be a hobby.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tabitha Morgan
"The plane-spotters seemed more encouraged with proceedings this time"

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