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1977: Greece releases UK plane-spotters

Five British plane-spotters imprisoned in Greece for spying have been released after 10 weeks in jail.

An Athens appeal court last week reduced their original sentence from 10 months imprisonment to six, and allowed them to exchange the balance of their jail terms for fines.

Greek police arrested the young plane enthusiasts in March 1977 on suspicion of espionage, after trailing them around nine military airfields and observing them taking detailed notes.

The five members of the West London Aviation Group, all aged between 20 and 28, have denied they are guilty of spying and insisted at the trial they were simply engaged in an innocent hobby.

Kieron Pilbeam, Roy Sturgess, Christopher Knott, Christopher Taylor and Timothy Blyth-Spearman have each paid a fine of 555 to obtain their release.

They are expected to fly home to the UK tomorrow.

Misunderstood hobby

Air Force intelligence chief Wing-Commander Ioannis Marinakis had told the panel of three judges at the trial that information on the layout of Greek airfields would be valuable to a foreign power.

Mr Taylor said the Greek court had not understood recording plane serial numbers could be regarded as a hobby.

"The way they sentenced us was obviously to deter anyone else from aircraft spotting in Greece," he said.

The 22-year-old added: "I don't think I will be coming back to Greece at least in the next few years."

In Context
Twenty-five years later another group of plane-spotters saw their hobby land them in trouble with the Greek authorities.

Police arrested 11 British men, one British woman and two Dutch men in Kalamata in November 2001, alleging the group had been gathering secret information at a military airbase.

Six were convicted of spying and the remainder of aiding and abetting in April 2002, but their sentences were suspended after they all lodged appeals.

On 6 November 2002 the Greek judges acquitted all but one of the plane-spotters. Michael Keane's conviction was upheld as he did not attend the appeal.

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