As I wrote back in May of last year, Paul Chambers holds the dubious distinction of being the first Briton to be convicted of a criminal offense because of something he wrote on Twitter.
As Chambers detailed in The Guardian:
“The reason for the arrest was a tweet I had posted on the social network Twitter, which was deemed to constitute a bomb threat against Robin Hood airport in Doncaster: “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!” You may say, and I certainly realise now, it was ill-advised. But it was clearly frustration, caused by heavy snowfall grounding flights and potentially scuppering my own flight a week later. Like having a bad day at work and stating that you could murder your boss, I didn’t even think about whether it would be taken seriously.”
Unfortunately for Chambers it was taken very seriously indeed.
Shortly afterwards he was arrested and taken to Doncaster police station. During a search of his house his iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated. A month later he was charged under the Communications Act 2003 for the offense of sending a menacing message. On May 10, Chambers was found guilty at Doncaster magistrates court and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and legal costs. As a consequence of the trial, Chambers lost his job as a trainee accountant.
The conviction has been widely seen as ranging from unfair to completely ludicrous, and Chambers has received overwhelming support from the Twitter community. After the verdict, thousands of users reposted Chambers’ tweet tagged alongside the #iamspartacus hashtag, in reference to the famous scene from the film.
Chambers’ case has also been championed by many leading British celebrities on Twitter, notably those involved in comedy, including Graham Linehan, Al Murray, Katy Brand and Stephen Fry. Indeed, Fry offered to pay Chambers’ legal costs, and was in attendance at a benefit gig for Chambers Friday night at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre.
“This must not be allowed to stand in law,” Fry said, explaining that Chambers tweet, while perhaps foolish (Chambers received plenty of good-natured mockery at the benefit), was simply an example of British self-deprecating humour and banter.
Fry added that he would continue to repeat Chambers’ tweet and face prison “if that’s what it takes”.
“We’ve got this incredible tool and we should fight any attempt to take it out of our hands,” added Linehan.
David Allen Green, Chambers’ lawyer, also spoke at the benefit.
“We should be able to have banter,” said Mr Green. “We should be able to speak freely without the threat of legal coercion.”
Chambers, who now lives in Northern Ireland, has appealed and this is expected to go to the High Court later this year.