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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 21:45 GMT
Court room tension erupts in relief
Plane-spotters

After a year of false dawns and disappointments, it was tears of joy and relief which finally greeted the acquittal of 11 British plane-spotters accused of spying in Greece.

As one after another the plane-spotters, found guilty last year, took the stand on the final day of their appeal hearing, the judges gave no sign of their possible intentions.

Graham and Neil Arnold
The verdict resulted in scenes of joy outside the court

With Lesley Coppin, wife of the man who organised last year's ill-fated trip to Greece, poking fun at her husband, his hobby and the British weather, Judge Giorgos Efstathiou remained stony-faced.

The only ray of hope came when chief prosecutor Nikos Panelis said Mrs Coppin was "no Mata Hari" and recommended that she, and the five other plane-spotters, be cleared.

However, Mrs Coppin's relief was short-lived.

Her husband, said the prosecutor, should be sent to prison for noting down serial numbers - an activity "harmful to state security".

Tense hour

With the judges stepping out to consider their verdict, only Paul Coppin seemed confident.

Indeed, he was assured enough to taunt the Greek Air Force officer, who arrested the group at Kalamata Airfield's open day last November.

"If we are cleared, I hope we will have an invitation to the open day on Friday," " he said, leaning over squadron leader Nektarios Samaras.

After a tense hour, the judge returned.


The court hushed, braced to receive a guilty verdict.

"The court believes plane-spotting is a hobby," he said in Greek as the defendants, their families and hoards of reporters strained to hear the court's translators.

The judge then appeared to say the notes taken by the plane-spotters could "cause problems to the defence of the country."

The court hushed, braced to receive a guilty verdict.

"Athoos" said the judge. "Innocent," said the translator.

As photographers and TV camera crews surged forward, the beaming Coppins locked in an embrace.

"My heart is beating, I didn't expect an acquittal," said a crying Pedita Norris to her husband Peter.

As the plane-spotters shook hands, hugged and even jokingly kissed for the cameras, Paul Coppin was still keen to attend Kalamata's air show - revisiting the site of his original downfall.

"I don't see why not, "he said "Perhaps they'll give us VIP treatment for a change."


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