Paul Chambers verdict beyond vindictive

With humour, context is all.

Things tend to be funny either because we entirely understand the context (as with the perrenial injokes of, say, Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue) or because things are utterly wrenched out of context (the bizarre ramblings of Ross Noble).

Paul Chambers, a trainee accountant, made a joke to his Twitter followers, saying he would blow up Robin Hood airport if closures meant he missed a meet-up with an Irish friend.

Specifically, he wrote:

“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

Not especially funny, but hardly that offensive either. And not genuinely threatening, is it?

Incredibly, someone reported Chambers’s tweet to the airport.

And then the airport passed it onto the police.

So at what stage does someone think “this was obviously a joke; we should drop this”?

They don’t. The Crown Prosecution Service first attempted to see if it could prosecute under the Criminal Law Act 1977. Having found the case insufficient, it then switched the charge to one under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 — a piece of legislation designed to punish harassment by text message.

Unbelievably, on 10 May, Chambers was yesterday found guilty as charged, and ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling almost £1,000.

The judgment makes unsettling reading for anyone who’s ever made a joke on their Facebook page or Twitter feed: Essentially it implies that since Chambers “published” the joke, he both must have known it to be menacing and meant it to be menacing.

The judgment bases this conclusion on the fact of the “current climate” of Islamist terror attacks on aviation. So once again, fear of a dour, punitive, vindictive, literalist movement has led the powers that be to act in a dour, punitive, vindictive manner.

Jack of Kent has lots more on this

Update: Paul Chambers has blogged about his experience on Liberty Central