Sentence has now been upheld in a devastating blow for free speech. Lauren Davis reports
Paul Chambers has lost his appeal at Doncaster Crown Court. The court found that Chambers’s tweet, in which he joked he would blow up Robin Hood Airport, was “obviously menacing.” Jacqueline Davies said Chambers was an “an unimpressive witness”, and said: “the words in the message speak for themselves and they were sent at a time when the security threat to this country was substantial.” She added: “Any ordinary person would have been menaced by the tweet.”
When the trainee accountant’s plans to travel to meet a fellow tweeter were affected by severe weather earlier this year, he vented his frustration on Twitter, writing:
Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!
The tweet was seen by an airport duty manager and Robin Hood Airport notified South Yorkshire Police. A week after posting the joke, Chambers was arrested under anti-terrorism laws, on suspicion of creating a bomb hoax. Police confiscated his iPhone, laptop and personal computer. He subsequently lost his job.
Chambers was charged the following month with sending a menacing message via a public telecommunications network — the first person in the UK to be charged in connection with Twitter. A district judge found him guilty of the offence on 10 May, and Chambers was fined a total of £1,000.
After his conviction Chambers said: “It did not cross my mind that Robin Hood would ever look at Twitter or take it seriously because it was innocuous hyperbole.”
The appeal against the conviction began on 24 September, with lawyer David Allen Green — better known as blogger Jack of Kent — coordinating the defence. Chambers gained hundreds of supporters on Twitter, many of whom quoted John Betjeman’s line “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”; Allen Green has argued that the poet’s words could be interpreted in the same way as Chambers’ tweet.
Chambers is now liable for the £1000 fine and costs from his original conviction as well as an additional £2600 in prosecution costs.