Stephen Fry stands by Twitter joker Paul Chambers at High Court

 

A man found guilty of sending a menacing tweet had celebrity backing as he renewed his challenge against conviction today.

A man found guilty of sending a menacing tweet had celebrity backing as he renewed his challenge against conviction today.

Paul Chambers was flanked by broadcaster Stephen Fry and comedian Al Murray as three judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, started a review of his case at the High Court.

The accountant was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates' Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending "a message of a menacing character", contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act,

He said he sent the tweet to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire was closed by snow in January 2010, and never thought anyone would take his "silly joke" seriously.

It 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!"

But, in November 2010, Crown Court judge Jacqueline Davies, sitting with two magistrates, dismissed his appeal, saying that the electronic communication was "clearly menacing" and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.

Opening a new bid to overturn his conviction and sentence, 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".

The circumstances of the offence of a "menacing character" had a higher legal threshold than that of a "threatening character".

Not all threats were menaces, counsel said.

To constitute a menace, he added, the threat must be of such a nature so that the mind of an "ordinary person of normal stability and courage" might be influenced.

Also, the person sending the message must intend to threaten the person to whom the message was sent - in other words, it was a crime of specific intent.

Mr Chambers's right to freedom of speech under the European Convention was engaged, he told the court.

Turning from the law to technology, he said that the 2003 Act did not "bite" as the social media platform involved was "a content service" and therefore outside the definition of both public electronic communication service and public electronic network.

Comedian Murray was one of Mr Chambers' supporters who was at the High Court today.

He said he was there because he found the conviction "monstrously unjust".

He said: "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."

"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.

Mr Chambers, 28, listened as Mr Cooper said it was obvious the tweet was a joke - not intended to be taken seriously by anyone and sent by someone who did not hide his identity.

It was certainly not sent in the context of terrorism and it was wrong for the Crown Court to make such an association.

He 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'."

Lord Judge commented: "That was a good joke in 1600 and it is still a good joke now."

Mr Cooper: "And it was a joke, my Lord."

Turning back to the case, he added: "This was no ultimatum of a serious kind to the airport. The last thing this particular tweeter wanted was for the airport to be closed."

He told the judges that Twitter was invented in 2006 so was not known to Parliament at the time of the 2003 Act.

Robert Smith QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said that, on any view, Mr Chambers, a man of previous good character, was "very foolish" to do what he did.

The question was, by whose standards and by what members of society would such a message be viewed as a joke, given that those who had access to it would probably not have any knowledge of the circumstances which led to it being sent.

He said the Crown Court was right to refer to terrorism, not because it perceived the message as indicating a possible threat, but because it was concerned that after the tweet was sent, Mr Chambers sent messages to his girlfriend referring to terrorism.

"These were not posted on the timeline and the court relied on them to demonstrate the accuracy of their finding that Mr Chambers was aware, and must have been aware, of the possible impact of his message on any member of the public of reasonable fortitude who might have seen it."

The judges reserved their decision to a later unspecified date.

PA

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit