Comics In Court To Support Twitter 'Joke' Man

Katie Stallard, Media and Technology Correspondent

A man found guilty of sending a 'menacing' tweet about a South Yorkshire airport has returned to court with the backing of top comedians to try to overturn his conviction.

Stephen Fry, Al Murray, and comedy writer Graham Linehan sat alongside former trainee accountant Paul Chambers inside court four of the High Court as the appeal was heard.

Chambers, 27, was convicted at Doncaster Magistrates Court in 2010 of 'sending an electronic communication of a menacing character' and fined £385, plus £600 costs, after a message he sent in 2010 when his local airport was closed by snow.


The tweet read: "C***! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"


The court heard that an off-duty aiport manager had been searching the social media site for references to the airport on 11th January 2010 and found the tweet.


He forwarded it to the airport's security manager, who assessed it as a 'non-credible threat' but was nevertheless obliged by protocol to pass it to the police.


Mr Chambers was subsequently arrested and charged under the Communications Act 2003, which forbids messages being sent on a public communications network of a 'grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing character.'


He appealed to the Crown Court in September 2010 and then the High Court in February 2012 but has so far failed to overturn his conviction.


However, the panel of two judges at the High Court was split down the middle and referred the case back to the court to be heard by a panel of three judges today, chaired by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge.


John Cooper QC, appearing for Chambers, told the court that the Crown Court in Doncaster had applied the wrong legal tests to the original appeal and that the threshold to define 'menacing character' should be higher.


He said: "'It must be more than falsely causing annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety."


"At its highest, what Chambers indulged in is that, and not a menacing character."


"It may well be that this case turns on the interpretation of 'menacing character'. What he [Chambers] did was nowhere near 'menacing character'.


Chambers has always maintained that the tweet was meant as a joke to his 690 followers, and not a serious threat against the aiport. 


Mr Cooper said: "Just because a joke is a bad joke, or an ill-timed joke, doesn't mean someone should get a criminal conviction."


Mr Chambers' supporters say he has lost his job as a trainee accountant as a result of the case and surrounding publicity.


The broacaster - and influential tweeter - Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers' fine, and a fighting fund has been established to pay his legal costs.


Comedian Al Murray has said the problem is that 'the law don't do funny' and that the original conviction stemmed from 'the law having one of its Monty-Python-does-Kafka brainfarts.'


In essence, Chambers' supporters argue that the case is about the right to freedom of expression, specifically the right to make a joke, however bad, without the fear of criminal conviction.


The case is listed for one day and judgment is expected to be reserved.