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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 14:22 GMT
Spotters return to scene of arrest
Kalamata airbase
Tense times: The spotters at the airbase

Exactly a year after being apprehended as spies, several of the plane-spotters cleared on Wednesday return to the airbase where they were arrested.
"Will it be noisy?" says four-year-old Isla Rush as she is led across the tarmac of Kalamata airbase towards a line of military jets.


I'm more nervous being here than I was in court

Lesley Coppin
Wearing a Hellenic Air Force T-shirt and clutching her stuffed dog Rachel, the daughter of Steve Rush is amongst a small group of acquitted plane-spotter "spies" returning to the very airbase open day where her father was arrested last year.

"I really don't want to be here," says Isla's mum, Jennifer Child.

Paul Coppin, the organiser of last year's disastrous visit, says he's come back to prove a point.

Paul Coppin, left, and Steve Rush
The ordeal has not put the aviation buffs off planes
"You can come to these open days quite freely - although the Greeks don't seem too keen to come, judging by the numbers here," he says.

The event - a celebration to mark the patron saint's day of the Greek Air Force - is indeed sparsely attended. Uniformed Air Force personnel and pilots in flying suits outnumber those here to see the exciting fighter jets flown into this otherwise dowdy training base for the occasion.

Isla is lifted up to gaze inquisitively into the cockpit of the Phantom jet.

Tempting fate?

"I'm more nervous being here than I was being in court this week," says Lesley Coppin, who was cleared along with her husband and nine other British plane-spotters.

Coppins
Lesley and Paul Coppin before the trip to the base
Many of these other aviation buffs heeded the advice of the British Embassy and the pleas of their wives and decided not to attend today.

"It brings back some very uncomfortable memories," says Mrs Coppin, recounting how she was arrested as she sat in the group's tour bus doing the crossword last November. "This is the first time I've ever seen beyond the car park."

As the Coppins, Steve, Jennifer and Isla walk along the line of the aircraft, they are carefully observed by Air Force security officers. Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing blares out from a stereo in one of the corrugated iron hangers. Greek flags hang in the still air.

Squadron leader Nektarios Samaras
Nektarios Samaras gave evidence in court
Squadron leader Nektarios Samaras arrives. He is the security officer who arrested the group and the man who delivered the most damning testimony against them in their two spy trials. Spotting the officer standing sullenly yards away, the group approaches him. Mr Samaras retreats.

"We will hopefully be friends now," says Lesley Coppin, extending her hand to the Greek. "I think so," replies Mr Samaras, offering a not entirely enthusiastic handshake before he strides away.

Jennifer Childs nervously ushers the group back the car. "Let's just get out of here," she pleads. Her partner Steve Rush is a little bit disappointed by the visit. "I wish we'd been more cordially greeted," he says.

Outside the base, Paul Coppin fishes out his copy of the European Air Force Directory: "I just want to see if I've spotted that F-4 Phantom before."


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