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The move means the end is in sight after more than a decade of investigation and Mr Hay's highly controversial conviction for dealing in illegally excavated antiquities.

"Any sentence of less than three years in Greece is automatically suspended if the condemned has a clean record," explained Mr Hay. "Hence, they chose the road of least resistance."

The five appeal court judges in Athens had retired on February 18 to consider their verdict, with Mr Hay's lawyers expressing optimism after having the chance to highlight all the inconsistencies of the case. The judges gave their ruling on February 25.

As ATG has previously reported, at the heart of the case was a disputed invoice, giving brief details of a transaction, made out in the sum of £1800 by Mr Hay to Athens antiquities dealer Anna Patrikiadou.

He has always argued that it referred to a small box of pot sherds he sold her when she visited him in London in 1999. She used it to explain a large number of illegally excavated antiquities found on her premises in 2000, valued at hundreds of thousands of pounds, which she claimed Mr Hay had sold to her.

Her testimony led to the Greek courts issuing a European Arrest Warrant demanding the deportation of Mr Hay from the UK, followed by a court case in which Mr Hay was not present and Mrs Patrikiadou's testimony was accepted wholesale, apparently on little more than her say so.

Mr Hay has since argued that it has been the acceptance of the Patrikiadou testimony as hard fact, despite the lack of any evidence to support it, that has led to a miscarriage of justice.

He has also argued that the European Arrest Warrant process was invalid in his case as even the Greek courts acknowledged that any potential offence on his part would have taken place in London, not Greece.

He is now awaiting further clarification from the court on the decision and its implications.

By Ivan Macquisten