Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Bristol plane-spotters fined by court in India

Stephen Hampton (l) and Steven Ayres, (r)
The pair had asked for a hotel room overlooking a runway

Two British plane-spotters have been fined 25,000 rupees each (£365) by an Indian court after admitting illegally monitoring aircraft.

Stephen Hampton, 46, and Steven Ayres, 56, both from Bristol, appeared before magistrates in Delhi charged with intercepting communications.

The pair, who had faced a jail term, were told they could return to the UK.

They had sparked suspicion after asking a Delhi hotel for a room overlooking Indira Gandhi International Airport.

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

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.

The Labour MP for Wansdyke Dan Norris, who had been supporting the pair's case, said the men had pleaded guilty to a breach under the Telegraph Act, at Patiala House Court in Delhi.

I'm relieved it is all over and we don't have to go through anymore of this hell
Dorothy Ayres

Such offences can carry sentences of up to three years in prison.

Mr Norris said the men had been held in a detention centre and told they could not leave India.

He said the judge wanted to find out more about the scanner and whether it could be used to pick-up conversations between pilots and air traffic control.

"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 Norris said.

Mr Hampton's mother Eileen Cock said: "I'm greatly relieved to hear today's news but I know that I won't be able to rest easily until Stephen is safely back in the UK."

The 79-year-old retired secretary added: "It's a huge relief after a rollercoaster of emotions for days and days."

She said her son's hobby had been "one he has been happy with for years and met no problem at all".

She added: "He has been to so many places, I suppose it just didn't cross his mind."

'Nice shock'

Steven Ayres' wife Dorothy said she was "just overwhelmed" at the news.

She said: "At least I know he's safe.

"It's a bit of a shock, but a nice shock.

"I'm relieved it is all over and we don't have to go through anymore of this hell.

"It's been horrendous because its been so far away."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We can confirm that two British nationals were fined by the Indian courts.

"They are now free to return to the UK."

Mr Norris added he believed the men would be coming home next week.

He said they were free to go but that their paperwork needed to be sorted out and stop notices removed from their passports.

The men's arrest on 15 February came just two days after a bomb blast at a German Bakery in Pune, the first major strike of its kind in India since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

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