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Detained Britons 'plane spotting'; likely to be booked

February 16, 2010 21:58 IST

Two British nationals were detainedĀ in New DelhiĀ for allegedly recording the conversation between pilots and Air Traffic Control prompting government to explore the possibility of booking the duo under a suitable law.

The duo -- Stephen Hampsto and Steve Martin--staying at a posh hotel -- Radisson -- near Indira Gandhi International Airport were detained on Monday along with hi-tech equipment and high-powered binoculars.

Highly placed sources in the Union Home Ministry said the investigators were shocked to find that the duo were recording conversation between pilots and ATC, an illegal act. The two British nationals had called up the hotel from London before their India trip specifically demanding a room overlooking the international airport, the sources said.

When confronted about the recording, the sources said, the duo told interrogators that it was their hobby which is known as "plane spotting". Some blogs on the internet also put up conversation between the pilot and the ATC. "We detained them because of suspicious activities," Delhi Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal said. Delhi Police has been asked by Home Ministry to find out the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act violated by the British nationals and asked them to book the duo, if there any violation of the Act.

A similar incident has happened in 2001 when 14 Britons were arrested on suspicion of espionage in Greece but they all were released because they were genuinely plane spotters.

The sources said the duo were believed to be tracking movement of flights arriving and departing from the international airport. They were to leave India around 10 am on Tuesday but could not do so as they were detained. Their hobby 'plane spotting' is defined as observation and logging registration numbers of gliders, powered aircraft, balloons, airships, helicopters and microlights.

Though police have not found any terror links to them so far, investigators are cross checking their antecedents. Apart from the powerful binoculars and other equipment, the Britons were said to be carrying a sophisticated gadget which could be attached to an antennae and monitor air traffic and capture details of any aircraft, including military ones.

"We are verifying their claims. The equipment, believed to have a capacity to track an aircraft which is around 100 km away, was examined by experts. We are also verifying their passport details," a senior police official said.

Police are trying to ascertain if they were in touch with any other person here or other parts of the country. "We are looking into their call details. Their mobile phones and laptops are being examined besides their emails," the official said. Police are also probing an email believed to have been sent by Hampston.

This is the second incident of foreign nationals being detained here in past one week. An American citizen, Winston Marshall Carmichael, was detained at the airport here on February 9 after a knife was detected in his hand baggage. Though no terror link is established in his case so far, Carmichael is still staying at the Lampur detention facility in the capital.

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