Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

UK plane-spotters 'admit monitoring aircraft' in India

Stephen Hampton (l) and Steven Ayres, (r)
The pair sparked suspicion after asking for a hotel room overlooking a runway

Two British plane-spotters have admitted illegally monitoring aircraft in India, the MP fighting for their return home has said.

Stephen Hampton, 46, and Steven Ayres, 56, both from Bristol, have been released on bail after being charged with intercepting communications.

MP Dan Norris said the men had pleaded guilty to a breach under the Telegraph Act, at Patiala House Court in Delhi.

The men cannot leave India and their case has been adjourned until 3 March.

Wansdyke MP Mr Norris, who is in close contact with the families, said the men had now been released from a detention centre.

Speaking from their Bristol home Mr Ayres' wife Dorothy said she thought he would be feeling anxious and that the shock would just be hitting home.

Steven Ayres' wife and daughter are anxious about his release

Mrs Ayres said: "Now he's out of the detention centre he might get to hear a bit more about what's going on.

"They weren't told anything at all. I was under the impression the lawyers had gone into the centre and spoke to them - but that's obviously not the case.

"He's never seen the lawyer other than for the first time at the court today. He's been plane-spotting for 35 years. It's been a real shock. We'll just be happy for him to be home."

Railway workers Mr Hampton, from Keynsham, and Mr Ayres, from St George, sparked suspicion after asking a Delhi hotel for a room overlooking a runway.

They were carrying an air traffic control scanner, a laptop, binoculars and cameras.

Breaches of India's Telegraph Act carry sentences of up to three years in prison.

Mother's relief

Mr Norris said: "They pleaded guilty to this breach under the Telegraph Act, an outdated colonial law, but the judge wants to know more about this scanner and whether or not you can listen in to the conversations between pilots and air traffic control which apparently you can't.

UK plane-spotters appeared at a Delhi court

"All this equipment does is pick up a beacon in every aircraft which identifies its make and the airline that runs it, and its full number so they can track them around the world."

Mr Hampton's mother Eileen Cock said she was relieved the men were no longer being held in custody.

"I feel a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders, at least for a few days," she said.

"I'm hoping they will be able to come home now but at least they will be able to get some proper accommodation and catch up on some sleep so they can think straight about what is happening."

She said her son had photographed planes all over the world.

The arrests happened during a security crackdown in the wake of a bomb blast in the Indian city of Pune, the country's first such explosion in over a year.



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