Doncaster Twitter bomb hoaxer wins appeal

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ACCOUNTANT Paul Chambers’ High Court victory over a supposedly “menacing” tweet to blow up Doncaster Airport was hailed as a complete vindication by his supporters today.

Mr Chambers, 28, was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs in May 2010 after being convicted of sending “a message of a menacing character”, contrary to the 2003 Communications Act.

Paul Chambers. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

Paul Chambers. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

But today, three judges headed by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, allowed his appeal against a Crown Court judge’s decision upholding the conviction.

Mr Chambers, of Corby, Northamptonshire, 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!”

After today’s ruling, Mr Chambers, who said he had become “unemployable” because of the prosecution, commented: “It’s been two-and-a-half years. At the moment I’m just feeling relieved. The Lord Chief Justice just seemed to get it.”

He added: “It’s an important decision as far as social networks are concerned and as far as Twitter is concerned.

“It has established that there has to be an action that is menacing and is intended to be menacing.

“It’s a very big decision for people doing what human beings do - telling a joke sometimes, even if it’s a bad one.”

He said he was grateful for the support from Twitter users which raised awareness of his case.

“All the supporters, everyone on Twitter who sent lovely messages, they are all as important as the celebrities.

“It doesn’t matter if it is social media or not, the law should be applied as the law should be applied - with common sense. Twitter is no different.”

Broadcaster Stephen Fry immediately took to Twitter to congratulate Mr Chambers 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!”

Comedian Al Murray, who was in court to lend his support, wrote on Twitter “He’s won”, before adding: “Colossal relief here in court. Short and sweet.”

Later, he said: “In 100 years there will be an operetta about this - about how ridiculous we were at the start of the 21st century. I’m a big fan of absurdity but this is taking the biscuit.

“Paul was doing what we all do sometimes in the heat of the moment.”

Murray added: “There are 10 million people on Twitter. Freedom of speech is something we take for granted in this country. This judgment affected the freedom of speech of 10 million people, not just Paul. That’s why it’s so important.

“The judgment shows this should never have come to trial and has been a terrific waste of money and time.”

Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “Today’s judgment is an advance in the justice system’s handling of free speech on the web. As more and more of us use social media, it is important that the law understands how people communicate online. This ruling is a step in the right direction.”

John Cooper QC had told the judges it was obvious the tweet was a joke and it was wrong to associate it with terrorism.

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’.”

Lord Judge said the 2003 Act, which came into force before Twitter was invented, did not create “some newly-minted interference with the first of President Roosevelt’s essential freedoms - freedom of speech and expression.

“Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished by this legislation.

“Given the submissions by Mr Cooper, we should perhaps add that for those who have the inclination to use Twitter for the purpose, Shakespeare can be quoted unbowdlerised, and with Edgar, at the end of King Lear, they are free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel.”

The more one reflected on it, he said, the clearer it became that the message did not represent a terrorist threat, or any other form of threat, but was a “conversation piece” for Mr Chambers’ followers.

It was not sent to anyone at the airport or anyone responsible for airport security, or any form of public security.

The language and punctuation were inconsistent with the writer intending it to be, or to be taken as, a serious warning.

There was no urgent response to it from the airport and police action was “not exactly hurried”.

While proper respect must be paid to the Crown Court’s finding, that did not address the unbroken pattern of evidence to be derived from the responses of those who read the message, and no weight appeared to have been given to the lack of urgency which characterised the approach of the authorities.