Monday, 10 May 2010

Paul Chambers Found Guilty

Paul Chambers has been found Guilty at the Twitter "bomb hoax" joke trial (for background see here).

He was prosecuted under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 for sending an "indecent, obscene or menacing" message for Tweeting the following joke:

"Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

Paul now has a £1,000 fine and a criminal record.

More information as it becomes available.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Katy said...

A huge blow for common sense. Is there any hope for appeal?

Chris said...

I'm just shocked. Can't even begin to imagine what Mr Chambers is thinking/feeling/going-through.

That this has gone ahead at all, despite an investigation that must have showed Mr Chambers having NO access to explosives or evidence of purchasing or intent to purchase explosives, is beyond shocking to me.

It was an expression of outrage, something that our legal system should be able to cope with without pushing it through to charge and trial.

Lord help all of us in this country, free speech is eroded day-by-day.

Mona said...

I have been following this since being alerted to the case thru your twitter feed. What can one say? I do hope there is an appeal.

Madam Miaow said...

Wow! It wasn't a threat. Clearly. It was a private comment. How very thought police of the authorities. I don't actually think they care about Paul Chambers. I think they're just flexing their muscles and practising for when there's serious social unrest.

Laura said...

That is ridiculous. Britain is becoming like Stasiland at the moment.

Stay strong. Common sense will surely prevail at some point.

Bellieshaker said...

wow cant believe that, jail time or just a fine you reckon??

Aidan said...

Was only alerted to this case a couple of days ago but I'm absolutely horrified. Black humour in a public domain now warrants a £1,000 fine and a criminal record, what on earth.

Schroedinger99 said...


Not the first time this particular act has been used to punish the innocent and let the guilty go free.

NewsBrain said...

terrible terrible terrible. no politician, or ver few, seem to have an interest in free speech. how sad.

John Sutton said...

Shades of the "Blackburn Resistance".

Who determines what is in the "public interest"? Does a random selection of the general public get sampled to decide on such issues, or does some suit in the CPS decide? Or does a politico get involved? I have no idea, and can someone who does know explain it to me? I can't imagine how much running such a trial would cost and I truly hope that he can appeal (again, I have no idea if that would be allowed).

simon294uk said...

So now people are unable to post jokes and flippant comments? So when I posted a comment saying that the world would be a better place without Rupert Murdoch interfering a while back, I may soon be on trial for pre-meditated murder?!

This case is absolutely ridiculous, and I hope that he can successfully appeal this. For the sake of common sense.

Sweder said...

Appeal notwithstanding has anyone set up a fund to pay this fellow's fine? I don't have much, but feel sure the Twitteratti could stump up a good portion of a grand.


Jeff Pickthall said...

This is distressing news. He'll be on every damn terror database in the country - and beyond.

I despair of this country at times.

RubyLegion said...

There are people who need money for drugs, yet they spent time and money on this crap?

Totally stupid. Hope this gets the mainstream coverage it deserves and I hope the people in charge get nationally ridiculed.

How did it ever gets this far?

Tomas said...

What is actually in the public insterest is not wasting our tax money on this rubbish.

ash said...

I am utterly disgusted at this. Politicians seem to have forgotten that denying free speech is equal to terrorism.

Isa Kaufmann said...

Absolutely ridiculous that Paul Chambers was fined for this!

Steve Jones said...

So this will go some way to confirming many people's impression that the legal system is evolving into something which is obsessed by rules and has little interest in justice.

Just what happened to common sense for heaven sake? I suppose I ought to feel a bit sorry for a being in the magistrate's position here. It's going to take some strong nerve to effectively say the CPS are not acting sensibly in this matter. Perhaps a more senior judge might have been able to take a more independent views.

Of course there is the sheer arbitrary nature of this too - I'm sure there are dozens of other examples where similar jokes on social network sites could be interpreted in exactly the same way. That is as menacing threats (not to mention all the other things that fall under this act).

A bad, bad day for us all, although worts of all for Paul Chambers.

James said...

While it would be tempting to put this down to mere stupidity, I cannot help wondering if there is a more sinister intent behind this insane verdict. Every example of free expression incurring the state's displeasure serves as a salutary lesson *pour encourager les autres*.

Lord Moolybap said...

This verdict is completely disgusting.

There is a clear and obvious difference between humour and a sincere threat.

What next? If you are overheard in the pub making some similar statement between friends, police are called and you are arrested!!

Lizzy said...

This doesn't appear to be very big news outside the blogosphere - it might help to generate interest by getting people to read the BBC's (very brief) report of the verdict, to get it on the 'most read' list...

Lisa said...

That is so effing stupid.Honestly, with the volcano, he can't have been the only one to make an offhand remark like that. This is going to have such a huge effect on this man's life, just because of a stupid joke.

sketch seven said...

I always believed that judges should be there to interpret the law - to ensure that the spirit of the law is maintained, not to the letter of the law.

This is absurd. It was clearly a joke, not made in a serious context and not intended as anything more than a sarcastic remark.

Bringing him to trial and fining him was a massive waste of time and money - this should have been thrown out long ago.

Manic Expressive said...

Wow. Guilty. When I read this, I wonder what could happen to ME. I know that is selfish, but, well, I have been known to write things on the internet that may be inappropriate. How long before something I write will come back to bite me?

Anonymous said...

Could not everyone like me who thinks this is stupid, just RETWEET the same words together again and again- get it trending..
not anonymous, just not signed up,

Charlotte said...

I recently posted something about how we're being 'watched' by digital PRs at organisations such as these and how easy it is for anyone to investigate and find out all about you in just a few Google searches - the 'modern day thought police'. This little nugget won't help Paul Chambers now though, will it.

Vex said...

Disgusting, shocking and quite frankly unbelievable. It seems like someone in the UK is really out to kill all communication and sharing of ideas on the Internet.

I'm glad I left the country when I did.

Frank said...

Good. He should be fined. There's a big difference between "God, I just wish I could blow it all up", "I should just blow it all up", and "You got a week, then you die."

It's not black humour, it's just people laughing at a death threat. Sure, if taken in the context of this guys entire life, it might just be another cynical comment, but how would I as a complete stranger know this? It's illegal to yell fire in a theatre because panic kills people. This guy SHOULD be fined, because he published a death threat to a PUBLIC forum, and somehow expected the PUBLIC to know him well enough to know it it was a joke.

At the very least he is stupid to a criminal level. Maybe the fine will help him smarten up.

Maartje said...

Man. Seems as though the officials have taken it upon themselves to be scared for the entire population. Pathetic.

Jonathan Heawood said...

Utterly extraordinary - the only thing that rivals today's political news. We have all fallen down a rabbit hole and are now living in a punditocracy where all jokes are banned except joke governments.

graham said...

Doesn't that make you want to blow things up? I mean, like balloons.

This story is really annoying, and blowing lots of balloons up would relax me. Maybe floating devices, like armbands, maybe if I blew some of them up the breath control would make me feel better.

Alastair said...

So the remark was only found by an airport employee doing a search days later. Does this mean any remark, any time can be viewed as open to possible prosecution? Google cache will catch us all.

Martin Budden said...

One of the things I find worrying about this that the main punishment is not the fine, but the criminal record. Yet criminal records are not intended, in themselves, to be punishments.

Paul Chambers has tweeted:
It's not the fine by the way, it's the criminal record. It has jeopardised my career. Punishment not befitting the "crime".

The criminal record means that Paul's career prospects are diminished, his ability to travel abroad is curtailed, and, if, sometime in the future he wanted to coach his son's football team, he probably would not be allowed to do so.

In the US I see increasing campaigning against overcriminalization, but the term does not seem to have entered the UK lexicon. Overcriminalization is describe at as:

'“Overcriminalization” describes the trend in America – and particularly in Congress – to use the criminal law to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake (instead of making proper use of civil penalties), and coerce Americans into conforming their behavior to satisfy social engineering objectives. Criminal law is supposed to be used to redress only that conduct which society thinks deserving of the greatest punishment and moral sanction.

But as a result of rampant overcriminalization, trivial conduct is now often punished as a crime. Many criminal laws make it possible for the government to convict a person even if he acted without criminal intent (i.e., mens rea). Sentences have skyrocketed, particularly at the federal level.'

The Simon Singh case was the touchpaper that started the campaign for libel reform. Perhaps this case will start the equally important campaign against overcriminalisation in the UK.

Dave said...

I'll resist the temptation to make this political, but it does seem to be yet another example of how Britain's civil liberties have been eroded to an unprecedented degree over the last decade or so.

I suppose Mr Chambers should be grateful that he wasn't detained for several weeks without charge under terrorism legislation. And so on.

Queenie said...

And so the clampdown on the internet and freedom of expression continues. Disgusting. Look forward to hearing more information as and when. Thanks for keeping us posted, J of K.

Jack said...

The thing that annoys me the most is that this clearly innoncent man has been slapped with a hefty fine whilst elsewhere we still have rapists, paedophiles and murderers happily walking the streets of Britain unmonitored.

Jo said...

Clearly this is insane. Just wondering if there's any chance of a "Simon Singh" style campaign to
a. Bring this to the attention of a wider audience and
b. Get a successful appeal

if there is, count me in.

Ste said...

Am I right in thinking that the district judge who today found him guilty is the same one who allowed the voiding of his original guilty plea?

Far be it from me to suggest that the system receives more costs and a bigger fine (no credit for guilty plea) when he's convicted after a not guilty plea.

Shocking from start to finish, and if someone sets up a fund, please post it on here as I'd happily donate.

rjh01 said...

I am going to be in the minority here. Anyone who makes a bomb threat, even as a joke, deserves to get a criminal record. I leave it up to people like Jack to say what laws are broken.

What I can say it that how can a person looking at a bomb threat know if it is a joke or real? If they say it is a joke and it is for real then it costs lives. So all bomb threats need to be taken seriously. This causes stress + inconvenience to heaps of people. Probably more than 1,000 pounds worth.

Imagine you are a terrorist on 8 September 2001. You know what is about to happen. And you know you want to stop it. You start making phone calls. Why should anyone take you seriously? You know no codes that say you are a terrorist. Hijacking planes? Flying them into buildings? How stupid. Just another joker.

So send a message to everyone, do not send joke bomb threats. They may cost lives. They will cost heaps of stress, inconvenience and money to many people.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Reading with interest and concern. I wonder did anyone retweet?

Anonymous said...

@rjh01: The government appear to have been very successful in instilling a sense of fear in you - and it is only the trusty State that can protect you.

This is a very sinister move (as described by many other contributors) - if one cannot be critical or make comments like the ones Paul Chambers made without fear of prosecution and criminalisation, then our freedoms have been eroded to a point where we have entered the Orwellian nightmare.

[Only anonymous as I don't have an account - JackR]

Nick Sharratt said...

@rjh01 - of course bomb threats should be taken seriously, but do you really think this was a bomb threat? No effort was made to alert anyone of an intention to blow anything up, instead an obvious joke was being made to people who choose to listen to what this person says.

It's the difference between someone saying to freinds in a pub "oh, you think you have it bad? I hate my boss, I could kill him with his own stapler' and someone phoning their boss up and telling them 'i'm going to kill you'. One is clearly not serious and the other is a vile threat.

So, I doubt many people would disagree with you actually, except if you really think this was in any way a bomb threat.

Manic Expressive said...

I see there are those who feel he should be charged.

To a degree, I agree. I mean, making a bomb threat or a death threat is not the best thing to be doing. However, once it was investigated and it was determined that he was no threat, then I feel it should have been dropped.

The disturbing element here is the fact that prosecutors seemed to be looking for something, ANYTHING, any law they could to charge him with.

Also, I LOVE the name Robin Hood Airport?

rjh01 said...

One of the dangers of making these sorts of jokes is that you might give other people ideas to repeat that threat, but do it in a way that has to be taken seriously. Then there are heaps of victims, including the criminals themselves.

No, never, under any conditions, make any type of threat even as a joke. The consequences can be bad and not foreseen by the people making the threats. Please make sure you understand that.

If a bomb threat is taken seriously the person making it can be sentenced to several years in jail. Example

pb said...

I just wrote this letter to CPS South Yorkshire (you can do so too!):


This is a complaint from a member of the public concerning the complete disregard (or perverse regard) shown yesterday to the public interest yesterday by the CPS in their misuse of the Communications Act 2003 to bring a prosecution against Paul Chambers.

To prosecute a man for what is in the absolute sense, objectively, so utterly victimless a 'crime', having shown such monstrous disregard both to humour, context, and the very actual reception ("not credible") shows an utterly obscene and utter disregard for the public interest, of which Paul Chambers, joke-maker, is very much part, as will be all future minor jokers who happen to blur the line between a communications medium and a personal publishing platform like twitter, a blog, a private diary, a facebook status, etc.

I fully appreciate the context - a legal duty for the airport to report the threat, and a duty to investigate the threat. That, in itself, in particular the latter part, is idiotic and one of the worst examples (barring the awful human rights breaches in the name of the war on terrorism) of how terror has become institionalised in British society. The CPS had an opportunity to act with common sense and decency and prove to be the faulty link in the chain that was to wrap around Paul Chambers neck, but instead threw MORE public resources, not at the true root of the problem, but at what is now yet another casualty.

Revolting behaviour by the CPS. Did you really not have anything better to do. Embarrassing, or what??

Miles said...

This ludicrous over-reaction makes more all the more concerned about the web-blocking clauses present in the hideous Digital Economy Act which was rushed through with minimal debate at the end of the last parliament. No doubt, it will be out-of-touch judges like this who will be in charge of deciding the fate of many sites. I can see it now: "Yes, Twitter clearly encourages Terrorism. It's in the national interest to block the entire site."

Somewhat inevitably, this has now spawned the #twitterjoketrial hashtag, where people are outdoing themselves tweeting innocent statements that could be seen as threatening messages such as "I really want a curry. I could murder an Indian."

Alice said...

What is all this on Twitter about Paul Chambers now being unable to finish qualifying as an accountant due to this criminal record?

Is this true? If so, under what legislation - it's not as if being an accountant means, for example, that he'll be working alone with vulnerable people or whatever is applicable to the criminal records paperworkocracy.

Thanks for any clarifications! (Of course it's not me who needs to know . . . but since there seems to be a determination to criminalise most of the population we'd probably better all find out!)

Madam Miaow said...

Strangely, some hospital worker's just been fined the same amount for moving his own goldfish to a temporary pond while the other one was drained. There does seem to be a mad drive to criminalize everyone at the bottom (downloading, mephedrone, etc).

Meanwhile, industrialists' offspring can take Class A powders into the US Embassy and get a rap on the knuckles, and public school thugs get a mere tagging for delivering a feral attack.

Anyhow, I think this is all symptomatic of a restructuring of society based along the lines of the Eloi and the Morlocks in The Time Machine.

notareargunner said...

What would they have done to Spike Milligan. Rhetorical, they sent him mad! Andher's me trying to take on the system over the legal murder of Andy Miller and the fostering of criminals within a body sanctioned by the SIA -Bailiffs. So I'm an old fat bastard and have lenty for them to kick.

Kate said...

Kate says: There is so much unhoned nonsense being talked here. Effectively it was found that PC made a nuisance call. The judge who had access to the evidence reckoned that the fact it was public,that he addressed the airport not an individual 'You'd better get your **** together', etc, indicated an irritated man who wanted to pass on that irritation to its source - (actually its source was nature but PC overlooked that). We all know that public twitter is filtered. And if filtering info in the public domain saves lives - good. And if it stops nuisance threats from clogging up a system designed to protect us - OK. Of course there was no question of PC planting a bomb - but that's not the point. Of course PC denied an intention that the tweet would be relayed to the airport. The judge didn't believe him.It was found to be a nuisance call and he got caught and punished accordingly. A £800 fine - a nuisance punishment. Fair enough. Lets not react to the case as though he'd been found guilty of terrorism. Doing so doesn't express liberal values, it expresses ill-honed values.