Court victory for Twitter airport bomb joker
Paul Chambers, the man put through more than two years of legal torment over a joke tweet sent in frustration at airport delays, has won a High Court appeal against his conviction.
The Twitter joke trial case was finally given a dose of common sense when judges ruled that the tweet couldn’t really have been taken seriously.
The 2010 tweet – “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!” – saw Chambers dragged through the courts, fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs after being convicted at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court in May 2010.
Chambers and his team have been fighting to clear his name ever since, with popular support from celebrities and comedians backing the right to make jokes on social networks.
According to the judges, Chambers’ “appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this ‘tweet’ did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character”.
Two years of a man’s life, stress and massive public costs wasted over an obvious joke
The initial conviction was for sending a “menacing electronic message”, but the High Court said the initial decision was wrong, because there was nothing menacing in the tweets.
“There was no evidence before the Crown Court to suggest that any of the followers of the appellant’s ‘tweet’, or indeed anyone else who may have seen the ‘tweet’ posted on the appellant’s timeline, found it to be of a menacing character or, at a time when the threat of terrorism is real, even minimally alarming,” the judges ruled.
Chambers’ solicitor David Allen Green, who had been given special permission to tweet from the courtroom, kept his live blogging to a minimum, with just two one-word tweets – “Win” and “Acquittal”.
Call for inquiry
The case has taken on a wider significance with comedians and free speech advocates alike concerned that sanctions for jokes set a bad precedent.
Chambers’ MP said the fact that the case had even made it to the courts, with costs and upheaval to Chambers’ life, should spark an inquiry.
“The Crown Prosecution Service owe my constituent and the country a huge apology for a shameful prosecution that should never have been brought,” said Louise Mensch, Conservative MP, on her Twitter feed.
“Whether it is the Justice or Home Affairs Select Committee, the CPS and this decision should be investigated on Parliament’s return. Two years of a man’s life, stress and massive public costs wasted over an obvious joke.”
The ruling noted that the case had gone ahead despite the South Yorkshire Police stating that: “The male in question has been bailed and his phone/computer has been seized – there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that there is anything other than a foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see.”
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