British plane spotters held on spying charges

Three men are facing espionage charges after they were caught plane spotting near Fujairah Airport.

British nationals Conrad Clitheroe, 54, Gary Cooper, 45, and Neil Munro were stopped by an off-duty police officer on February 22.

They have since been transferred to State Security Prosecution, which handles matters of national security.

Clitheroe and Cooper are said to be from Greater Manchester in northern England, while Munro is reported to be a UAE resident.

Defence lawyer Nasir Hashim is representing one of the men, who he is not allowed to identify. He told 7DAYS that his client was not aware that his activities could be against the law. He said he is due to visit the man today.

Hashim said they will be referred to the State Security Court in Abu Dhabi after investigations are completed and a final charge is issued.

He added: “The current charge states that they violated national security by taking pictures of aircraft. They have denied the charge already and claimed it’s just a hobby and they were not aware that it’s an illegal hobby in UAE. I’m confident that I will be able to free my client.”

Hashim said the trio were arrested when an off-duty officer spotted them outside the airport taking pictures of planes and recording aircraft numbers.

He said: “The officer took them to a police station, took their cameras and searched their belongings. They were transferred to State Security in Abu Dhabi and the initial charge is espionage.”

Police found return air tickets to the UK for the men dated February 26.

The maximum penalty for espionage is life in jail or a death sentence.

BBC News quoted Clitheroe’s wife Valerie as saying: “I have spoken to him three times since his arrest last week – he is really upset, really sorry for upsetting me. They are shocked… It is a case of national security.”

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