NEWS

Plane fans must wait in prison

Judicial officials in the southern town of Kalamata decided yesterday to keep 12 British and two Dutch plane spotters in prison until a council of judges rules on espionage charges against them. The decision could keep the group in jail for at least 10 to 12 days, until the case is heard by a three-member panel of judges, defense lawyers said. That council will then rule if any of the group’s members – 13 men and one woman – will have to stand trial. The charges carry a maximum 20-year jail sentence. It’s a very bad development. We were not at all expecting it, said Helen Donker, a Dutch consular official. British consul Donald Holder said of the decision that we weren’t expecting it, but if it’s part of the Greek judicial procedure, we have to accept it. It’s disgusting, they are just ordinary people with ordinary lives, said Perdita Norris, whose husband Peter is an avid plane spotter and author of a book on military aircraft. He has taken it badly and I worry about their mental health. Greece has disgraced itself. The group was arrested on November 9 after attending air force day at a military airfield near Kalamata. The men are held in prison near Nafplion in the north-eastern Peloponnese, and the only woman, 51-year-old Lesley Coppin, in Korydallos in Athens. Athens says the group had already been warned three times about taking photos at bases. At the time of their arrest, the 14 were charged with felony espionage. But after intelligence and air force officers reviewed the evidence, judicial authorities decided on November 21 to bring additional espionage charges for taking down notes and aircraft numbers at the high-security Megara military base about 30 kilometers west of Athens earlier this month. Defense lawyer Yiannis Zacharias noted that an elevated security awareness in Greece has given the case a high profile. There were three factors which contributed to this, he said. The events of September 11, a new US ambassador who behaves as if in a previous life he was head of a security firm and tells the government from morning to night that security is weak, and the Olympic Games. (AP) Last night the formal procedures to identify Passaris were to be carried out in Bucharest. Greece’s extradition request is expected to be filed soon.