Below is the judgment given by Doncaster Crown Court on 11 November 2010 refusing the appeal of Paul Chambers of his conviction and sentence.
On the 10th May 2010, the Appellant, Paul Chambers, a 27 year old, working in the finance industry, appeared before District Judge Bennett at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court and was convicted of an offence of sending, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that was grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character contrary to Section 1271(A) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003.
He appeals against that conviction by virtue of a Notice of Appeal dated the 18th May 2010. At the conclusion of the Respondent’s case, the Appellant made submissions that the case should proceed no further.
This morning, we have given our reasons for rejecting those submissions, having concluded that the evidence at that point was capable of amounting to the charge we are concerned with. We do not propose to repeat our summary of the evidence contained in that Judgment.
The Appellant gave evidence. He confirmed that he was now 27, but 26 at the time we are concerned with, and that he was of hitherto good character. He described his education and his academic achievements, having obtained 17 GCSE certificates.
Since leaving school he has furthered his education and has been in constant employment, initially with an automotive company, but since 2006 he has worked with a subsidiary company and was promoted to administration and finance supervisor. In recent times he has undertaken tasks with a greater degree of responsibility and told us he would not knowingly risk his job. In consequence of this conviction he was suspended and eventually dismissed.
He described how he met Crazy Colours online and had seen her once prior to these events. He agreed that it was obviously then a relationship in its early stages. It was an important relationship, indeed, he is now living with her.
He accepted he was frustrated by the potential cancellation of, or interference with, his plan to visit Belfast to see her and that his followers would have been aware of the importance to him of his relationship. But he denied that he was prepared to put out a threat.
He accepts that he sent the message in question on the public timeline of Twitter, but says he did not regard it as menacing. He did not intend it to be, nor did he see any risk at all that it would be so regarded. He said that if he had, he would have not sent it.
He described his Twitter usage and agreed he had 690 followers and had sent 1,400 messages over the eleven months that he had been using the site. So far as the messages sent directly to Crazy Colours were concerned earlier that day, he accepted sending those.
In cross-examination, he was asked about his experience of travelling by air and he said that he had not done so for five years, since he was 21, but he did not read the news, save on his news feed and he did not then often watch the television news.
He was asked why he had made references to terrorism in his private messages and he said “I never thought about it”. When asked about whether he expected others to read his message, he said he didn’t think about it and denied that he was showing off, although we note in passing, that in his interview at page 22, he expressed a contrary view.
We pause at this stage to note that his private dialogue, at messages 451 and 454, appeared to us to include others, as can be seen from messages 452 and 453.
He said that the content of the messages to Crazy Colours and those from others, did not stick in his mind, despite the fact, as was put to him, that he only sent 5 tweets at the material time, as we have been informed.
Mr Ferguson repeats and amplifies the three submissions he made to us at an earlier stage of the case and we will deal with these in the same order.
We have already set out in detail the statutory provisions and the interpretation of them by both the Divisional Court and the House of Lords. We remind ourselves obviously of the burden and standard for proof.
We are satisfied, on the evidence, that the message in question is menacing in its content and obviously so. It is difficult to imagine anything more clear. It fits the Oxford English Dictionary definition and the observations of Lord Justice Sedley, to which we have earlier referred. It is, in our judgement, menacing per se.
Although the offence does not require the message to be seen, we take the view that an ordinary person seeing this, and we have no evidence that anyone did, would see it in that way and be alarmed. The airport staff did see it and were sufficiently concerned to report it. As the authorities make it clear, there is no need for anyone to see the message and in any event, different people can have different views.
The required mens rea for this offence is that the person sending the message must have intended the message to be menacing, or be aware that it might be taken to be so.
This Appellant was 26, well-educated and in a responsible job and there is no evidence that he is anything other than of sound mind. We, of course, bear in mind his evidence and the importance of his good character, acknowledging, of course, that good character cannot provide a defence.
We found the Appellant to be an unimpressive witness. We find it impossible to accept that anyone living in this country, in the current climate of terrorist threats, particularly at airports, would not be aware of the consequences of his actions in making such a statement.
Furthermore, we are satisfied that he, as an experienced user of Twitter, made a deliberate decision to post this message on the public timeline of Twitter, on the very day he sent seemingly related private messages to Crazy Colours and within two hours of posting them. We do not accept his evidence that he was unaware of television news and newspaper reports at the material time. His account in interview, as we have observed earlier, was self-serving, although we note that at page 2 of his interview, he uses the expression, when dealing with his Twitter experiences, not to this serious of magnitude.
Accordingly, we are satisfied that the Respondent has proved the necessary mens rea and that the Appellant was, at the very least, aware that his message was of a menacing character.
Finally, in respect of the third matter raised, we repeat our findings on that aspect, made at an earlier stage of this case.
Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.
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