Victory for Paul Chambers in Twitter joke trial

By Georgie Keate

The man convicted for making a 'menacing' joke on Twitter about blowing up an airport has been acquitted at the high court.

Paul Chambers said he looked forward to "going off and living a normal life" after today's judgement and concluded his tweet could not be 'menacing' if it was interpreted as humorous.

He had originally been found guilty of sending a 'menacing electronic communication' by Doncaster's magistrates court back in May 2010.

The controversial tweeter was preparing to meet his girlfriend, Sarah Tonner, when he discovered his local airport closed by snow.

In irritation, he tweeted: "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!!" Airport officials then reported the message to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In today's high court appeal judgement, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams said: "If the person or persons who receive or read it, 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."

Chambers' conviction had sparked a Twitter outrage over the crackdown on free speech. The message was retweeted by thousands of people, trending with #IamSpartacus in reference to Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film where gladiators are executed for refusing to let Spartacus carry the blame for the uprising.

Among his Twitter supporters were Stephen Fry. He tweeted this morning: "Complete vindication and victory for Paul Chambers in #twitterjoketrial. Well done @DavidAllenGreen and team."

Comedian Al Murray, a vocal supporter of Chambers, also tweeted: "Colossal relief here in court. Short and sweet. #TwitterJokeTrial".

Chambers told the BBC afterwards: "This doesn't just protect comedians, it protects everybody.

"If we'd lost today we'd live in a country where you have to watch what you say… that sounds a little to me like east Germany in the bad old days. This is, I think, the biggest and most political court case in recent times."

Chambers had been fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs in 2010 and lost his job as a financial supervisor. He subsequently moved to Northern Ireland and is now a trainee accountant.

John Cooper, Chambers' assistant, said after today's hearing that the high court's decision was a significant one across the whole world.

"It means if you intend to make a joke and if what you do is a joke, however bad a joke that is, you cannot be prosecuted," he explained.

"What is amazing about this prosecution is a lot of public funds have been expended by the Crown Prosecution Service… why should public money be spent on something like this?"