Paul Chambers Twitter joke conviction overturned at High Court

31/07/2012

Paul Chambers, the man convicted in a criminal court for tweeting that he would ‘blow Robin Hood airport sky high’ has finally had his conviction overturned in the Royal Courts of Justice.

The offending tweet was as follows:

“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s*** together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!”

Mr Chambers, as a Twitter user, had approximately 600 followers at the time, all of whom would have been able to see this tweet.

Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the manager of Robin Hood airport was browsing Twitter some five days after he tweeted it.  On Twitter, a user’s tweets may be seen by anyone depending upon the settings applied to a user’s account.  As such, the airport manager picked up on Mr Chambers tweet by undertaking a simple search for references to the airport.

Though the airport deemed the tweet to be a “non-credible” terrorist threat, it was referred to the police in accordance with their standard policy.

Incredibly, Mr Chambers was then arrested two days later for suspected involvement in a bomb hoax.  Even more incredibly perhaps, the case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service who decided Mr Chambers should be charged with an offence of sending by a public electronic communication network a message of a menacing character, contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

 

This offence is committed where a person sends, or causes to be sent, by any public and electronic communication system (such as Twitter or facebook, for example) any message that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

 

Mr Chambers was convicted before a Magistrates’ Court, who found that the message was menacing and that Mr Chambers would have known it to be so.  He later appealed this conviction to the Crown Court, who upheld his conviction finding the same.

 

Unsurprisingly, Mr Chambers defence throughout the proceedings, asserted from the police station interview onwards, was that the message was a joke.  He never intended it to be menacing nor believed that it would be viewed that way.

 

He appealed his conviction again to the High Court.  Fortunately, a defendant who is convicted by aMagistrates Courtor Crown Court inEnglandorWalesalways has at least the opportunity of appealing that conviction, though of course the appeal may not be allowed.

 

The High Court finally overturned Mr Chambers conviction, ruling that the tweet could not be found to be menacing; no-one who saw it in those first few days took it seriously.  Indeed, the airport staff were barely moved by it, reporting it to the police simply because their policy dictated they should do so.  Further, the Court ruled, a person who sends such a message intending for it to be a joke cannot be said to intend that it also be menacing; no matter how bad that joke may be.

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