5 November 2002

Spotters say no to paying for freedom

By Sean O'Neill in Kalamata

The British planespotters appealing against convictions for spying in Greece yesterday rejected the idea of accepting reduced jail sentences that could be bought off with cash.

The group's Athens-based lawyers are believed to have had discussions with the judges hearing their appeal in the southern city of Kalamata.

The six members of the group who received three-year prison terms were asked by their legal team if they would accept a reduction in their sentences to two years.

Under Greek law a two-year sentence for a misdemeanour offence can be paid off. But the Britons are united in the view that they are innocent and nothing short of acquittal is acceptable.

With the cost of fighting the case mounting - each has accumulated a bill of £25,000 - some say they could not afford the £4,000 needed to pay off a two-year sentence.

The planespotters spent six weeks in jail following their arrests at an air force open day a year ago. They were found guilty of espionage charges at their trial in April. Their sentences were suspended pending appeals.

The group spent a frustrating day yesterday waiting in vain for their case to begin.