27 Jun 2012

Twitter joke appeal conjures Betjeman and Shakespeare


A man found guilty of sending a “menacing” tweet was backed by comedians as he renewed his challenge against conviction earlier. Paul Chambers was flanked by Stephen Fry and Al Murray.

Paul Chambers, 27, from Doncaster, who now lives in Northern Ireland, was convicted in May 2011 for sending a “menacing electronic communication”.

The tweet read: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your s*** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

He claimed it was a joke and wants his conviction and sentence quashed.

Comedian Stephen Fry, who was at the high court hearing, said it was “very important” for freedom of speech.

Al Murray said he was there because he found the conviction “monstrously unjust”.

He explained: “He (Mr Chambers) made a passing remark to his followers, to his friends, to people who joined in with his way of looking at the world.
“It was found randomly by someone else and the law has, like one of those Python 10 tonne weights, dropped on top of him.”

John Betjeman would be concerned when he said ‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough’, or Shakespeare when he said ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers’. John Cooper QC

“The funniest thing is hearing it (the tweet) read out in court by a QC in his wig. Even when it’s said deadpan by a QC it’s funny, it’s obviously a joke,” he added

Their support comes on the same day campaigners held a rally in Westminster to demand a strong public defence in the defamation bill, which is currently going through parliament.

Tweet was ‘joke’

He said he sent the tweet as a joke after being frustrated by the closure of the airport due to snow in January 2010.

An appeal was dismissed in November 2010 with a crown court judge stating that the tweet was “clearly menacing” and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.

His lawyers have claimed he was the victim of a legal “steamroller” that threatened to make the law look silly and that the crown court erred in law and in common sense.

John Cooper QC told Lord Judge, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams that the wrong legal tests had been applied.

He said that the message was sent on a timeline on the Twitter facility to Mr Chambers’s followers and not as a randomly searched for communication, and the relevant section of the act was never intended by parliament to deal with messages to the “world at large”.

Mr Cooper said: “If that be the case, and I don’t mean to be flippant, John Betjeman would be concerned when he said ‘Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough’, or Shakespeare when he said ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers’.”

The judges reserved their decision to a later unspecified date.

Defamation bill

The Libel Reform Campaign was founded to get reform of the libel laws to protect scientific and academic discussion, investigative journalism and bloggers from silencing by the libel laws.

The government published the bill 2012 in May and it is going through the House of Commons now. But the bill does not contain a public interest defence useful for scientists, non-government organisations and bloggers.

Following the rally, Professor Brian Cox and comedians Dara O’Briain and Dave Gorman will present a petition of more than 60,000 signatures to Downing Street.