30 September 2002

Blair raises planespotter case with Greek PM

By Paul Anast in Athens

Tony Blair raised the case of the 12 British planespotters convicted of spying during a meeting with his Greek counterpart at the weekend.

He discussed the issue with Costas Simitis during a one-day visit on Saturday to discuss Greece's assumption of the presidency of the EU in January and its objections to a possible war against Iraq.

Six British and two Dutch planespotters were sentenced to three years in jail by a court in April after they took down aircraft numbers and used radio scanners at an air show last November The other six Britons were given 12-month suspended sentences.

An appeal is due to be heard on Nov 4 and a Greek foreign ministry official said the sentences could be reduced to avoid further damaging Greece's relationship with Britain.

"We believe the matter will soon be resolved to the satisfaction of public opinion in both countries," he said.

The case has threatened to create a diplomatic rift between the two countries because of the public outcry in Britain over the unexpectedly harsh sentences. Mr Blair had also expressed his dissatisfaction and politicians threatened to take the matter to the European court.