‘Menacing’ Tweet Not So Menacing After All

19 June 2013

Paul Chambers, who had been found guilty of sending a menacing electronic communication by Doncaster Magistrates' Court back in May 2010, won his appeal against his conviction at the High Court which led to his conviction being quashed. Mr. Chambers' case attracted a fair amount of media attention, particularly given the support of a number of celebrities including Stephen Fry. 

When he was living in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, he had attended at Robin Hood Airport for a flight and become frustrated as the airport was closed due to snow in January 2010. He tweeted a message saying "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!!". 

Mr. Chambers has maintained that the tweet was a "silly joke" and he didn't dream that anybody would take it seriously. However, a police investigation ensued as a result of which he was charged and initially convicted of the offence by the Magistrates' Court. 

In considering the matter, the Appeal Judges stated that in their view "if a person or persons who receive and read it, (the message) or may reasonably be expected to receive or read it, would brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste, or empty bombastic or ridiculous banter, then it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character". 

The appeal to the High Court comes after his first appeal to a Crown Court Judge in November 2010 concluded that the communication was "clearly menasing". However, in making submissions to the Court of Appeal, John Cooper QC stated that it was obvious that the tweet was a joke and further made the point that it had been sent by someone who took no steps to try and hide his identity. It was the Appellant's case that it was not sent in the context of terrorism and it was wrong for the court to have made that association. 

The Prosecution's decision to pursue the case in the first place has been subject to criticism. The Crown Prosecution Service stated that "following our decision to charge Mr. Chambers, both the Magistrates' Court and the Crown Court, in upholding his conviction, agreed that his message had the potential to cause real concern to members of the public, such as those travelling through the airport during the relevant time". In confirming that they would not be seeking to appeal the judgement further, the CPS stated "presenting our case allowed the High Court to hear both sides and reach a fully considered decision. We have noted and accepted the Court's reasoning.".

Mr. Chambers stated after the judgement "I am relieved, vindicated – it is ridiculous it ever got this far. I want to thank everyone who has helped including everyone on Twitter".