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FRRO releases British plane-spotters after court grants bail

Source: PTI
Last updated on: February 23, 2010 22:50 IST
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The two British "plane spotters", detained for allegedly recording conversations between pilots and Air Traffic Control,  walked out of a detention centre as the Foreigners Regional Registration Office decided to free them after a local court granted bail.

Stephen Hampston (46) and Steve Martin (55) were detained on February 15 night at Radisson Hotel after its staff reported to police that they were found indulging in "suspicious activities". The duo were produced before the court of Metropolitan Magistrate Saurabh Pratap Singh Laler, who granted them bail but left it the Foreigner Regional Registration Office to decide on the continuation of their detention.

"The Britishers were released by the FRRO. They have been taken by officials of the British High Commission," RajivAwasthi, their lawyer, told PTI.The court has said it was granting bail for the offenceregistered under the Indian Telegraph Act but since the issue involved foreigners, "the FRRO is the sole authority with regards to the foreigners and the court cannot give directions on this issue (detention of foreigners)".

The court had asked the duo to furnish a personal bond of Rs 10,000 each as pre-condition of release besides fixing thematter on March 2 for further hearing. However, they could not leave the country without getting prior permission from the court.

A case under Telegraph Act under Section 20 (read with Section four) was registered against the Britons on Monday. If convicted, they may have to serve a jail term up to three years, or fine extending to up to Rs 1,000, or both. The violation of the Act which they made comes under bailable and non-cognizable offences.

According to Section 20 of the Telegraph Act, if any person establishes, maintains or works a telegraph within the country in contravention of the provisions of Section 4 which allows only licenced ones to establish, maintain or work a telegraph, be it on ships and aircraft, he may be punished. Asked about what could be the maximum punishment if convicted, Awasthi said the Britons could be fined up to Rs 1,000 as they were not accused of violating serious provisions.

The duo, who are employed with Railways in UK, was shifted to Lampur Detention Centre on February 17 after detention orders were issued. Hampston and Martin were detained with hi-tech equipment  used for recording conversation between the ATC and the pilots, besides a high-powered binocular.

They claimed that they were into plane-spotting and that it was their hobby. Plane spotting is defined as observation and logging registration numbers of gliders, powered aircraft, balloons, airships, helicopters and microlights. The Union Home Ministry had asked Delhi Police to find out the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act violated by the Britishers and, if so, directed them to book the duo.

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