Twitter user faces jail over airport threat

A man who posted a "joke" message on Twitter threatening to blow an airport "sky high" has been warned by a court that he could be sent to prison.

Paul Chambers, 26, pleaded guilty at Doncaster magistrates' court yesterday to sending the "menacing" message about Robin Hood Airport, in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, on 6 January.

The case, which was first highlighted by The Independent, is thought to be the first time that a UK citizen has been arrested and charged for comments that they posted on Twitter.

Chambers, of Balby, Doncaster, posted the message on the micro-blogging site after snow forced the airport to close. He was due to fly out from the airport to Ireland more than a week later.

He was arrested on suspicion of communicating a bomb hoax and later charged with sending, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.

Yesterday, the court heard that the message 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!"

Rob Desira, prosecuting, told the court: "The message was posted on the Twitter social networking site. He admitted posting the message into the public domain but never intended the message to be received by the airport or for them to take it seriously."

Mr Desira said the message was picked up by routine investigations but had no impact on the airport, other than the expense and time taken for the investigation to be carried out.

Adjourning the case, District Judge Jonathan Bennett told Chambers that all sentencing options, including custody, were open. He was granted unconditional bail to appear before the same court for sentencing on 12 March.

After his arrest, Chambers was suspended from work pending an internal investigation. Detectives also confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.

He was not aware that he had committed a crime until 13 January, when police arrived at his office after apparently receiving a tip-off from a member of the public.

"My first thought upon hearing it was the police was that perhaps a member of my family had been in an accident," he told The Independent last month.

"Then they said I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act and produced a piece of paper. It was a print-out of my Twitter page. That was when it dawned on me.

"I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post. I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."