UK high court experiences flash of sanity, decriminalizes sarcastic aviation tweeting

In a rare and welcome moment of sanity, the UK High Court has ruled that guy who made a snarky tweet about bombing an airport is not a criminal. The judge's written opinion is not kind to the cops and prosecutors who spent years chasing Paul Chambers, the tweeter in question, pointing out that no one at any point believed that Chambers was serious, that no one was credibly alarmed, and that they were all, basically, total idiots. Wired UK's Mark Brown has more.

"Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed," his infamous tweet read. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!"

A week later, he was arrested by anti-terror police for making a bomb threat. In May 2010, the Doncaster magistrates court found him guilty "of sending, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message of a menacing character." He was fined and lost his job.

After a lengthy appeal process, Chambers has finally been acquitted. In the judgement document, the high court said, "the appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this tweet did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character; we cannot usefully take this aspect of the appeal further."

UK High Court overturns conviction for Twitter joke


  1. Stupidity wins unless he gets his job back and a hefty sum. And of course, public apologies. And it would be nice to see some people fired. And fries, fries are always good.

    1.  Especially curly fries.
      It’s doubtful he’ll get his job back as he has since moved on in his life, but he has been awarded court costs and he looks set to recieve a massive compensation payment if he asks for one

      1. My understanding is that he had to move to Ireland because he lost his first job because of this. Then his second employer sacked him because the employment agency he used failed to declare his involvement in an ongoing prosecution. So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

  2. Hold on, I’ve built my entire personality on just this sort of knee jerk adherence to technicalities and calling out others on their own lack of appreciation for the rules.

    What am I to do now? Huh?

  3. My only reservation – from the point of view of free speech – is that the same appreciation of ‘humour’ is extended to those who make what we consider ‘right wing’ quips. For example, someone might joke about racial or gender issues – are these people going to receive the same protection? (And I say this as a left-winger, before anyone flames me. My concern is a level playing field in free speech.) OR are we going to start defining what is and is not ‘humour’?  

    1. We are getting down to some very fine parsing here, but there is a difference.

      One type of speech was accused of being threatening, but found not be. (“I’m so angry I’m gunna blow shit up!”)

      The other is not necessarily threatening but can still be hateful. While some hate language gets close to threatening (eg Westboro) there’s no literal threat.

      So it’s not about humour – it’s about threat (or the absence thereof) or it’s about hate.

  4. Oh come on, the guy was making bombing jokes in relation to airports.
    It didn’t require Kafkaesque process, but the guy is clearly a total idiot not expecting to get fallout.
    Now excuse me while I make threathening bomb tweets to my kids school about their carppy lunches…

      1. 20 years ago you could have made a private joke about it to your friend, which you could still do now.

        But 20 years ago the average person could not have instantly broadcast that joke to the entire world, which they can easily do now, but probably shouldn’t.

        1. The ability to broadcast messages is separate from the ability to understand those messages. One may increase as the other declines. Social media can lack context. This is a problem for the interpreters of messages to resolve. People should say what they want and never self- censor or give in to the ‘chilling effect on freedom of speech’ of legal action. No-one has the right not to be offended and bad taste is not a crime.

    1.  At least your kids are getting nutritious fish for lunch. Hardly deserving of bomb threats.

  5. It is fortunate that the court found in his favor, because I was going to dissolve the Internet otherwise.

  6. Would you walk down the street making jokes about blowing up an airport? No. Would you stand in the passport queue at an airport and joke about it? No.

    And what happens if someone does blow up an airport and then authorities reveal they’d seen the bomber’s online threats but dismissed them as a joke?

    Clearly in this case the prosecution wasn’t warranted, but my point is that if you say dumb things in public you can expect that one day there’ll be repercussions.

    1. I’d kill for some ice cream right now.
      I am saying this out loud on the street and nobody called a cop.

    2. Would you walk down the street making jokes about blowing up an airport? No. Would you stand in the passport queue at an airport and joke about it? No.

      Maybe not if you’ve given in to state mandated paranoia. The rest of us aren’t that freaked out about everything.

    3. That’s kind of a weak point to make though, especially since there is such an overwhelming supply of people saying dumb things on the internet all the fucking time with no expectation of consequences whatsoever.

      It’s just NOT the job of the state to take dumb statements in the internet at face value and turn them into dumb prosecutions at the taxpayer’s expense.

      To keep freedom of speech I’ll take my chances that the police miss the genuine threatening ravings of one psychopath by ignoring the dumb ravings of a million morons. I’m not such a fucking wuss that I need the police to protect me from bad people saying scary things on twitter.

  7. A bad taste joke is not a crime, never has been a crime, and never should be a crime. 

    A bad taste joke invites immediate censure from your audience: that’s your fallout right there.  Getting arrested by spooks is absurd.  Yay judge!

  8. The problem seems to be not that the police investigated the tweeter, but that they seem to feel every investigation must lead to a conviction.

    Investigating and clearing someone doesn’t seem to be an option because… that’s not what happens on the telly and that would be unmanly, I guess.

    1.  This. This is exactly what happened. The CPS decided that they HAD to make an example of him, regardless of what the facts were and regardless of the fact that no one with any actual sense of perspective considered his intentions when he posted his tweet.

    2. More time spent clearing suspects means less time convicting criminals and the job of the police is to catch criminals. Ask the politicians.

  9. “In a rare and welcome moment of sanity, the UK High Court”

    The UK doesn’t have a High Court. This decision came from the High Court of England & Wales. You may be surprised at how often the higher courts show plenty of sanity – it’s usually the lower courts where the madness happens.

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