Robin Hood Airport tweet bomb joke man wins case

Paul Chambers: "I want to move on, get a job and have a holiday"

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A man found guilty of sending a menacing tweet threatening to blow up an airport has won a challenge against his conviction.

Paul Chambers, 28, of Northern Ireland, was found guilty in May 2010 of sending a "menacing electronic communication".

He was living in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, when he tweeted that he would blow up nearby Robin Hood Airport when it closed after heavy snow.

After a hearing at the High Court in London his conviction was quashed.

'Obvious joke'

Mr Chambers said later: "I am relieved, vindicated - it is ridiculous it ever got this far.

Analysis

This appeal was all about whether Paul Chambers' tweet, made in frustration that Robin Hood airport was closed, and threatening to blow it sky high if the problem wasn't sorted out, was a 'menacing' message and therefore criminal.

In a judgement which emphasises that context is everything, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge made clear that if people who receive or read that kind of message would brush it aside as a silly or bad taste joke, or ridiculous banter, then it would be a contradiction in terms to call it 'menacing'.

Campaigners who supported Mr Chambers regard this ruling as common sense catching up with the law, which now clearly accommodates irony, wit and bad taste.

However, it doesn't mean that anything goes.

A message which is intended to, and does in fact, create fear or apprehension in those who read it will still be regarded as criminal.

"I want to thank everyone who has helped, including everyone on Twitter."

Mr Chambers said he had sent the tweet, which contained swear words, to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, was closed by snow in January 2010.

He said he had never thought anyone would take his "silly joke" seriously.

The message Mr Chambers tweeted stated: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

In their judgement, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said: "If the person or persons who receive or 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."

Mr Chambers, who is originally from Corby, Northamptonshire, was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs after being convicted at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010.

'Vindication and victory'

His first appeal was dismissed by a crown court judge in November 2010, who said the electronic communication was "clearly menacing" and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.

However last month, John Cooper QC told the judges it was obvious the tweet was a joke and it was sent by someone who did not hide his identity.

Robin Hood Airport A duty manager responsible for security at the airport saw the tweet five days after it was posted

It was certainly not sent in the context of terrorism and it was wrong for the crown court to make such an association, he said.

Comedians Stephen Fry and Al Murray were among those supporting Mr Chambers' case.

Mr Fry later tweeted that the ruling was a "complete vindication and victory" for Mr Chambers.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would not appeal against the judgement.

"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," it said in a statement.

"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."

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