Spotters acquitted of spying charges

KALAMATA (AP) – An appeals court yesterday overturned espionage-related convictions for British and Dutch planespotters whose case pitted military security rules against the hobby of watching military aircraft. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously to clear the 14-member group just a few days shy of the anniversary of their arrest, which touched off a diplomatic row between Greece and Britain. «They did not believe they were doing anything wrong and we accept their good faith,» said the head judge, Giorgos Efstathiou, following more than an hour of deliberations. «I’m very relieved. It was like fireworks going off when they said it was an acquittal,» said one of the defendants, Lesley Coppin, whose husband Paul had organized the trip. «It’s a great relief,» he said. «I think I’ll have a few drinks.» Public prosecutor Nikos Pantelis proposed upholding the convictions for eight members of the group – six Britons and two Dutch – sentenced in April to three years in prison for illegally gathering information. He proposed that six other Britons convicted of complicity and sentenced to one year should be freed, he told the court. «They didn’t break into any base. They drove around in full view,» argued defense lawyer Yiannis Zacharias. «Simple observation can’t be prohibited.»

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