Two Britishers, accused of illegally recording conversations between pilots and Air Traffic Control, were on Friday freed by a Delhi court, which accepted their admission of guilt and imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on each.
"I can be convicted and sentenced for the offence under Section 20 (establishing electronic equipment without permission) of the Indian Telegraph Act," Steven Martin Ayris, 55 and Stephen Hampston, 46, told Metropolitan Magistrate S P S Laler.
Seeking lenient punishment, the accused, hailing from Bristol in the United Kingdom, claimed ignorance about the penal consequences of their plane-spotting hobby in New Delhi while admitting their guilt.
The court first examined the Britons in in-camera proceedings to ascertain the voluntariness of the confessions.
"After making an inquiry from the accused regarding their understanding about the nature of offence, the allegations against them and the consequences arising out of said proceedings, the court is satisfied that the present application falls within the purview of the provision of the CrPC (dealing with plea bargaining)," the magistrate said in his order.
The Britons, who are employed with Railways in UK, were confined to Radisson Hotel near the international airport in New Delhi on February 15
They used to watch and photograph aircrafts and airports. They had also installed virtual radar to know the details of planes.
Accepting the plea applications of the Britons, the court asked them to deposit a fine of Rs 25,000 each.
Earlier, their counsel pleaded they be permitted to leave the country as nothing incriminating has been found against them by various investigative agencies.
The court also asked the police to take requisite steps for returning their laptops, which were seized at the time of their arrest, after scrutinising the contents.
Earlier, the court had granted bail to them on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 10,000 each and asked them not to leave the country without its permission.
A case under Section 20 (read with Section four) of the Telegraph Act was registered against them under which a person can be sentenced to a prison term of up to three years or slapped with a fine extending to up to Rs 1,000, or both. The offence comes under bailable and non-cognisable offences.
Hi-tech equipment used for recording conversation between the ATC and the pilot, besides a high-power binocular, was recovered from their possession.