Celebrities back appeal by airport tweet prankster

 

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The Independent Online

Celebrities appeared in court yesterday to support the right of a man to joke about blowing up an airport.

Paul Chambers is appealing against the decision by a court in May 2010 to fine him £385 and give him a criminal conviction for what he said was a tweet made in a moment of frustration when snow appeared likely to prevent his flight from an airport in South Yorkshire to Northern Ireland to visit his girlfriend.

Chambers, an accountant, sat on the public benches at the High Court yesterday flanked by the broadcaster Stephen Fry and the comedian Al Murray as he challenged the conviction.

The tweet read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

The case has rumbled on for two-and-a-half years. Yesterday his legal team asked a team of judges led by the most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Judge, to quash the conviction, saying that current legislation was too out-of-date to deal with the growth of social networking sites. Twitter was invented three years after the Communications Act, under which Chambers was prosecuted, came into force.

Chambers, who attended the hearing with his girlfriend Sarah Tonner has already lost one appeal against his conviction after a judge ruled that the tweet was clearly "menacing". His latest challenge came after celebrity backers helped to raise thousands of pounds to pay for his legal bills.

John Cooper, QC, for Chambers, said it was wrong to read any terrorist connotation into the message. "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'."

Prosecutors said that the tweet was posted at a time when the potential threat to airport security was high and the public had a right to feel they could travel safely. The judges' ruling will be given at a later date.

Al Murray, who tweeted throughout the hearing, said the conviction was a "monstrous injustice" and defended the right of comedians to tell jokes that few found funny.

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