A tale of two tweets
Paul Sinha: A tale of two tweets
11 Nov 10

UPDATE: Reports are emerging that Paul Chambers appeal of his twitter conviction has been rejected

Hopefully you will have heard of the ridiculous case of the unfortunate Paul Chambers the man who now has a criminal record because of a jokey tweet made whilst frustrated with snow related delays at Doncaster Robin Hood Airport.

“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!”

This was the offending tweet , a clearly flippant comment whose intent, or lack thereof would have been pretty easy to establish . His case , involving intransigent heavy handedness from all concerned elicited sympathy from most rational people who are collectively crossing their fingers for his success at appeal today.

At some stage yesterday Gareth Compton , a Tory councillor for Erdington in Birmingham tweeted this :

”Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death ? I won’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
Gareth Compton tweet

At any level , this is a thoroughly unpleasant tweet. First of all nobody in any political position should be tweeting or indeed telling ”jokes” that are in such flagrant bad taste. Secondly I am always uncomfortable about a certain type of rightwing (and sometimes leftwing) commentator who gets disproportionately angry when the opponent whose views they disagree with happens to be from a “minority” group. The tweet leaves a nasty taste, and Gareth Compton should think long and hard about his responsibilities as a councillor. But…

It was clearly NOT an incitement to murder, in the same way that Paul Chambers was clearly NOT going to blow up Robin Hood Airport. It was a hideous misjudgement yes , but there is an obvious jokiness to the context. A remarkably unpleasant jokiness yes, but nevertheless it is there.

So I am a little bit surprised by the latest developments in which Mr Compton has been arrested and bailed for his words , supported by Yasmin Alibhai Brown who has described his tweet as an incitement to murder.

Yasmin Alibhai Brown is a journalist I have admired over the years for her ability to get under the skin of both Islamic extremists, and also those who will never accept any form of multiculturalism. But I certainly don’t agree with everything she writes or says, and I believe she is in the wrong here. Because of what she represents , every time she appears in the media she is the target of vituperative verbal attacks on her character and has been the recipient of numerous death threats. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like — I get upset by one bad review. But I would have thought this would have given her more insight into the difference between an actual death threat , and a boorish rightwing councilllor.

In my set I have a gag which jokily celebrates the stoning of Peter Mandelson. It is robust enough to have got big laughs on Radio 4, and in comedy clubs and arts centres up and down the country. The reason it has never once been booed is not because people actually want Mandelson to be stoned to death. The reason is that it is such a ridiculously outrageous concept that people know perfectly well I am joking. The context here is the rest of my set which is cheerfully celebratory of Britain warts and all and so any idea that I would ever advocate violence is ludicrous.

The context with Gareth Compton is that he is a Tory Councillor trying his hand at Twitter. Having read his tweets thoroughly it is clear that I don’t agree with most of his views. But nevertheless I think it is nonsense to claim that he is inciting murder.

The irony is that all over the worldwide web, anonymous internet warriors are only to happy to incite hatred and murder, and surely this is where the appropriate resources should be directed.

If you believe, as I do, that Paul Chambers is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, then you should also believe that the police have no role to play in the strange case of Alibhai Brown vs Compton. A joke, however misjudged and offensive, is still a joke. The use of the sledgehammer/walnut analogy can surely never have been more appropriate than it is when describing the use of police resources to act on a poor taste tweet. I sincerely hope that this madness does not continue as the precedent it sets is worrying indeed.

A version of this post originally appeared at