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2001: Greece holds plane-spotting 'spies'

The Greek authorities are to carry out further inquiries in the case of 12 British plane-spotters being held on spying charges.

The 11 men and one woman were remanded in custody on Monday after a court hearing.

They were arrested last Thursday for allegedly taking photographs at an air show at a military base near Kalamata in southern Greece.

The group have denied taking photographs inside a restricted military zone - a serious offence in Greece because of long-standing military tensions with neighbouring Turkey.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.

'Cultural misunderstanding'

British diplomats said they understood the group had a written invitation to attend the air show, but one which would have included a strict no-photography clause.

They had expected the court would view the whole affair as a cultural misunderstanding - plane-spotting is almost unheard of in Greece - and release the group.

But the magistrate ruled they should be held at least until Friday so Greek security services could examine material seized from them.

An assessment of the group's photographs and notebooks will then be sent to the magistrate.

The flying club members - who were travelling with an organisation called Touchdown Tours - are being held in a jail in Kalamata.

The owner of Touchdown Tours, Paul Coppin from Suffolk, is one of those being held.

The company organises regular overseas trips for military aviation enthusiasts, including a similar trip to Greece last year.

Touchdown Tours' website said last year a group visited 18 bases in five days, logging more than 700 Greek military aircraft at bases including Kalamata.

In Context
In mid-December the 12 British plane-spotters - plus two from Holland - were freed on 9,000 bail before a trial the following year.

In April 2002 they returned to face trial on lesser charges and were confident of being cleared.

Instead eight were found guilty of espionage and sentenced to three years in jail.

The other six were convicted of aiding and abetting and received a one-year suspended sentence.

Those who received prison sentences were allowed to leave Greece while their appeals were being heard.

In November 2002 13 of the plane-spotters returned to Greece and succeeded in overturning thier convictions.


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