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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 04:18 GMT
Plane-spotters cleared of spying
Paul and Lesley Coppin
Paul and Lesley Coppin celebrate the court's verdict
Eleven British plane-spotters convicted of spying in Greece have been acquitted.

The group were arrested one year ago as they took notes at an air base open day in Kalamata, southern Greece.

Hugs and tears of joy greeted the verdict, which was delivered via a translator after an hour of deliberating by three judges.

In April, six of the Britons and two Dutch men were found guilty of spying and given three-year jail sentences.

These were quashed in Wednesday's hearing.

Steven Rush with daughter Isla, three, and wife Jenny
The Rush family will go to Disneyland
Five other Britons, found guilty of aiding and abetting and given one-year suspended sentences, are also free to come home.

But the twelfth plane-spotter Mick Keane, who stayed at home on health grounds, is still convicted of aiding and abetting because he did not attend the appeal.

Steve Rush, from Surrey, who also faced the lesser charge, was overjoyed and spoke to BBC News Online immediately after the verdict.

He said: "If we hadn't got an acquittal this time, we would have fought them all the way.

"We were 100% determined to overturn these verdicts and even had the flights booked for another appeal."

Legal bill

Mr Rush said he would take his daughter Isla, three, on a long-promised trip to Disneyland, USA, once he saved enough money.

Each of the plane-spotters has a legal bill of about 25,000.

Paul Coppin, who organised the tour and faced jail, told BBC News Online he wanted to go to the annual air base open day on Friday, the anniversary of their arrest.

He said: "Hopefully they will greet us with VIP treatment, for a change."

From left: Antoni Adamiak, Graham Arnold, Peter Norris, Frank Mink, Andrew Jenkins, Wayne Groves
The plane-spotters say the information was not secret

Another of the plane-spotters, Antoni Adamiak, said he would prefer to see Chelsea playing on Saturday, rather than returning to the air show.

He said: "It's a nightmare that is now over. I can't wait to get home to be with my family."

Lesley Coppin hugged her husband Paul as the verdict was announced.

"It's been a long time in coming and it's more than welcome," she said,

"Greece is a beautiful country but there do need to be some changes made."

Perdita Norris, wife of Peter Norris was in tears. "My heart is still beating. I didn't expect this until the very last minute."

Not understood

The defence team finished its case on Wednesday by arguing the Britons and two Dutch men were innocently doing a hobby unknown in Greece.

Summing up on the second day of the appeal hearing at a court near the scene of the arrests, Nikos Salavrakos said plane-spotting was not understood.

He said: "We are lucky in Greece, we do not have this as a hobby. Here we have the sun."

Another defence lawyer, Yannis Nikiteas, said the officers at the airbase were honourable men who made an honest mistake.

He said: "How can 14 people moving in daylight in buses be carrying out espionage?"

Before the summing-up, the public prosecutor Nikos Panelis said five of the Britons found guilty of aiding and abetting should be acquitted.

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

The prosecution admitted they were not spies in the classic "Ian Fleming" sense.

But they argued the information obtained by the plane-spotters was classified information which could have harmed national security.

Those originally 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 originally 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 Emma Howard
"Their nightmare is finally over"
Jane Hughes speaks to defendants
"A very happy day for the plane-spotters"
The BBC's Tabitha Morgan
"The verdict comes as a huge relief"

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