A trainee accountant who posted a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter threatening to blow up an airport was yesterday convicted and fined £1,000.
Paul Chambers, 26, sent the tweet to his 600 followers after discovering that Doncaster's Robin Hood Airport, from where he was due to fly to Ireland, had been closed by snowfall.
The short message, posted on 6 January, read: "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!"
Chambers told the court it was sent in frustration, but the judge at Doncaster Magistrates Court said the tweet was "of a menacing nature in the context of the times we live in". The court was told that Chambers had been due to fly to Ireland to visit a girl he had met on Twitter, and sent the message when he realised his plans could be jeopardised by the weather. He said he did not realise that it could be seen by anyone other than his followers.
But it was spotted by Shaun Duffield, the off-duty manager at the airport. He alerted an airport security manager Steven Armson who said that, although he graded the threat as "non-credible", he had no option but to pass it to the police. Chambers was asked if he understood the airport had to take threats seriously, whatever the context. He replied: "I do now. I apologise for whatever consequences have happened, but at the time that was not my intention at all. It did not cross my mind that Robin Hood would ever look at Twitter or take it seriously because it was innocuous hyperbole."
Richard Haigh, defending, told the court the tweet about the airport had to be seen in the context of the language and styles of the social networking world. Mr Haigh described it as a "Fawltyesque" outburst. He said the message could possibly be seen as "immature", "tasteless" or "unacceptable", but not criminal. Chambers was found guilty of sending a menacing electronic communication and ordered to pay a £385 fine, a £15 victim's surcharge and £600 costs. He said he plans to appeal.
Last night the case was being widely discussed on Twitter. The girl Chambers had been flying to meet posted a message saying that the conviction meant he was no longer able to qualify as an accountant. Meanwhile, the comedian Stephen Fry offered to pay Chambers' fine for him.