Paul Chambers loses appeal in Twitter joke trial
11 Nov 2010
BY LAUREN DAVIS

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.

6 responses to “Paul Chambers loses appeal in Twitter joke trial”

  1. […] speech advocate Index on Censorship said the UK judiciary was out of step with social networks. “The verdict demonstrates that […]

  2. Howard says:

    Those who can should leave Britain now. It’s no longer a civilized country with basic freedoms.

  3. Andrew says:

    According to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 [http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127]…

    127.

    Improper use of public electronic communications network

    (1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

    (a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

    (b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

    (2)A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

    (a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,,”

    Surely Nick Clegg is in breach of the law for knowingly and falsely pledging to oppose a rise in tuition fees. He has caused 6,836,824 voters an inconvenience in the form of a wasted vote.

    Maybe I’ve misinterpreted the law here, but so did the court when they convicted Paul Chambers due to a ‘menacing’ statement.

  4. Andrew says:

    Perhaps the court should have been offered some enlightenment on what is a basic rhetorical device… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole

    We should all report any cases of such speech, they would have to arrest thousands!

  5. Liz says:

    I don’t see this decision as a threat to free speech. Making threats of violence has not been legal for sometime.

  6. […] Index on Censorship – Paul Chambers loses appeal in Twitter joke trial […]