Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Twitter airport bomb joke man wins case

Paul Chambers was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending 'a message of a menacing character', contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act
Paul Chambers was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending 'a message of a menacing character', contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act

A man found guilty of sending a menacing tweet has won his challenge against conviction.

Paul Chambers, 28, was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending "a message of a menacing character", contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.

He said he sent the tweet to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire was closed by snow in January 2010, and never thought anyone would take his "silly joke" seriously.

It read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

But, in November 2010, Crown Court judge Jacqueline Davies, sitting with two magistrates, dismissed his appeal, saying that the electronic communication was "clearly menacing" and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.

Today, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said: "We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the Crown Court that this 'tweet' constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it.

"On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed."

Mr Chambers, who has received backing from celebrities such as broadcaster Stephen Fry and comedian Al Murray, said later: "I am relieved, vindicated - it is ridiculous it ever got this far.

"I want to thank everyone who has helped, including everyone on Twitter."

His counsel, John Cooper QC, had told the judges it was obvious the tweet, which was sent by someone who did not hide his identity, was a joke.

It was certainly not sent in the context of terrorism and it was wrong for the Crown Court to make such an association.

He said: "If that be the case, and I don't mean to be flippant, John Betjeman would be concerned when he said 'Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough', or Shakespeare when he said 'Let's kill all the lawyers'."

The judges noted there was no evidence before the Crown Court to suggest any of the followers of the "tweet", or anyone else who may have seen it posted on Mr Chambers' timeline, found it to be of a menacing character or, at a time when the threat of terrorism was real, even minimally alarming.

In fact, nothing was done about it by anyone until five days later when the duty manager responsible for security at the airport, while off duty at home, found it.

Robert Smith QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), had said that, on any view, Mr Chambers, of Corby, Northamptonshire, a man of previous good character who worked as an administration and finance supervisor, was "very foolish" to do what he did.

He said the question was, by whose standards and by what members of society would such a message be viewed as a joke, given that those who had access to it would probably not have any knowledge of the circumstances which led to it being sent?

Stephen Fry welcomed the "complete vindication and victory" for Mr Chambers following today's ruling.

The broadcaster and comedian, who stood alongside Mr Chambers during an earlier appeal hearing, took to Twitter to congratulate him and his legal team.

The star, who is taking a break from the social networking site, wrote: "Pops head up quickly: complete vindication and victory for Paul Chambers in twitterjoketrial. Well done DavidAllenGreen and team. Bye!"

Fellow comedian Al Murray, who was in court for the ruling, wrote on Twitter "He's won", before adding: "Colossal relief here in court. Short and sweet."

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