Fate of plane spotters still in the balance

The fate of the British plane spotters convicted of spying in Greece was tonight hanging in the balance after the public prosecutor recommended half should be acquitted but left the others still facing prison terms.

The fate of the British plane spotters convicted of spying in Greece was tonight hanging in the balance after the public prosecutor recommended half should be acquitted but left the others still facing prison terms.

Nick Pantelis recommended to the appeal judges that the six previously convicted of aiding and abetting and given one-year suspended sentences should go free, but in a twist of fate one of the six had waived his right to appeal.

Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent, was advised not to return to Greece on health grounds after suffering depression and decided to abandon his appeal against his one-year suspended sentence.

That sentence now remains against him while the judges seemed virtually certain to acquit the other five on the prosecutor’s recommendation.

The fate of the six convicted of the more serious offence of espionage was less clear, as defence lawyers continued to argue on their behalf before the judges retire to consider their verdicts. They were given three-year jail sentences at their trial in April.

Mr Pantelis recommended their convictions should stand and appeared to recommend that they should get at least a one-year sentence.

“Whoever tries or has the intention to obtain material defined under our law as classified should be sentenced to at least a year,” he said.

“I’m not saying that these people are like spies as described by Ian Fleming or like Mata Hari,” he told the appeal in Kalamata, southern Greece, which was on its second day.

“What you have in front of you are ordinary people who have got involved with the Greek justice system in the context of this plane spotting.

“But unfortunately for them someone who is plane spotting can be described as breaking the law of Greece.”

He said the officers who had arrested the group could be described as “over-zealous” but said accusations that the appeal was a “witch hunt” were not true.

The spotters had endangered national security by collecting the serial numbers of planes, he said, adding that two reports by the Greek security services agreed that the information was classified.

Defence lawyer Yannis Zacharias said he supported the recommendation to acquit those facing the lesser charge, but called for all of them to go free.

All 12 Britons and two Dutch men who were travelling with them have admitted visiting a series of air bases, and many said they had taken notes, but all vehemently deny spying and insist they were innocently pursuing their hobby and had official permission to be at the bases on the open days.

They have vowed to clear their names, even if it means pursuing the appeal through the Greek Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

The six Britons convicted of spying are: Antoni Adamiak, 37, from London; Graham Arnold, 39, of Ottershaw, Surrey; Paul Coppin, 46, of Mildenhall, Suffolk; Garry Fagan, 31, of Kegworth, Leicestershire; Andrew Jenkins, 33, of York; and Peter Norris, 53, of Uxbridge, Middlesex. Two Dutch men travelling with the group were also convicted of spying and face the same sentence.

The six found guilty of aiding and abetting are: Mr Coppin’s wife Lesley, 51, also of Mildenhall; Mr Bursell; Wayne Groves, 39, of Tamworth, Staffordshire; Steve Rush, 38, of Caterham, Surrey; Christopher Wilson, 47, of Gatwick, West Sussex; and Michael Keane, 57, of Dartford, Kent.

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