Judges assess evidence against plane spotters

An assessment of the evidence against a 14-strong group of plane spotters detained in Greece accused of spying was due to be presented to three judges today.

An assessment of the evidence against a 14-strong group of plane spotters detained in Greece accused of spying was due to be presented to three judges today.

But the leader of the group, who have been held for 24 days, could have his fight for freedom jeopardised by claims he was linked to Turkish intelligence services, a supporter warned today.

Greek foreign ministry officials were said to be taking a ‘‘serious’’ view of reports that Paul Coppin, who organised the holiday, was a guest of the Turkish armed forces in May this year.

He has been quizzed by Greek authorities about the visit to an air show in Turkey but has denied spying or links with Turkish intelligence services, insisting he was there as an accredited aviation journalist.

But Euro MP Richard Howitt warned that any report linking the 57-year-old to Turkey could damage his chances of winning an early release.

Bitter enmity has existed between the two countries since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and Mr Howitt said both sides were sensitive about security issues.

Greek foreign ministry officials were ‘‘taking the report seriously’’, he said, adding: ‘‘It is bound to have a damaging effect.’’

Mr Howitt, the Labour MEP for the East of England, said Mr Coppin had told him about visiting Turkey two days ago, when the politician visited the 11 British men being held in Nafplion prison, near Athens.

‘‘Given the long-standing enmity with Turkey, this report is bound to have a damaging effect in Greece itself,’’ he said.

‘‘Yet I believe it is just one more example of the rumours and misinformation thrown up because of the inordinate delay in dealing with this case.

‘‘When I met Paul in jail two days ago he volunteered the information to me that he had been questioned about attending an air show in Turkey, explaining his only connection was as an accredited aviation journalist, something he has done in many countries around the world.

‘‘Paul has been questioned for two hours at a time when others have had 15-minute interviews and I know he fears being made a scapegoat so that the Greek security forces can save face.’’

Mr Howitt said he was still confident that every member of the group would be freed once all the evidence was heard in open court.

They appeared before an investigative judge last Tuesday in a closed hearing, and, after today’s assessment, the judges are due to meet in private tomorrow and could reach a decision as early as Wednesday, Mr Howitt said.

If the group are ordered to stand trial it could take up to a year for the case to come to court and the spying charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.

Meanwhile, they have told of harsh conditions inside Greek prisons, where they are being held with up to 16 other prisoners per cell, and many have said they are sleeping on concrete floors because they do not have beds.

One man said they were locked in their cells for more than 13 hours a day and forced to shower over a hole in the ground which doubled as a toilet.

Mr Coppin’s wife Lesley, 51, the only woman in the group, is being held in Greece’s only women’s jail, Korydallos prison near Athens, where she said she would rather die than serve a 20-year sentence.

The group of 12 Britons and two Dutch men were arrested at an air show in Kalamata on November 8 during a tour of air shows and bases organised by Mr Coppin, of Mildenhall, Suffolk.

They all deny that they had ignored earlier warnings not to take photos or make notes about planes.

Their plight has attracted international attention from human rights groups and Mr Howitt has promised to raise their case in the European Parliament and check if any European laws have been breached.

All the group deny spying charges.

The other British people in custody are: Peter Norris, 52, of Uxbridge, west London; Antoni Adamiak, 37, of London; Andrew Jenkins, 32, of York; Wayne Groves, 38, of Tamworth; Michael Bussell, 47, of Swanland, near Hull; Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent; Steven Rush, 38, from Caterham, Surrey; Christopher Wilson, 46, who lives close to Gatwick Airport; Graham Arnold, 38, from Ottershaw, Surrey; and Gary Fagan, 28, from Kegworth, Leicestershire.

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