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back to article Twitter 'martyr' takes airport joke case to High Court

A man who was convicted of posting a tasteless joke on Twitter about blowing up a UK airport plans to take his case to Blighty's High Court. Human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson will head up the legal fight for Paul Chambers, according to the Associated Press. Chambers, 27, of was arrested in January for posting a message on his @ …

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FAIL

...where he will lose again ...

unfortunately, the way the law is framed, it's dificult to find some wiggle room, on the facts.

Digging into the history of the case, it's unclear whether Mr. Chambers first trial was with a jury, or not. That would have been the stage at which to highlight the fact that it wasn't a serious tweet - a jury might have understood. But from then on, any appeal involving officials is always going to take the more serious interpretation.

The law may be changed as a result of this trial, but he will still be guilty.

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Badgers

so there's no more Common Law then ?

which is supposed to override 'interpretation' of statute law according to the reasonable man test - or the man on the Clapham Omnibus.

So would a reasonable man (that's you AC) think for even a millisecond that there was a threat being made ?

So if the reasonable man wouldn't think there was a threat made then there is no need to do anything to that ludicrous law anyway - well apart from re-peal it and many others of its ilk,

but then we are under Euro-jurisprudence now; since Parliament stopped complying with the 1689 Bill of Rights. So now the Courts do NOT use Common Law to vet statute law as they are supposed to.

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Stop

rubbish

the High Court frequently overturns verdicts, based on the fact that common sense needs to be used when applying the law

he wasn't guilty of the offence he was charged with, thus I expect the verdict to be overturned

law can be set by precedent, as well as by statute

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indeed

but it depends how he approaches the high court. If he has compelling cases where "jokes" have had cases dismissed then he will be ok. If he simply says "it was a joke guvnor" then it will stand.

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And then on to the EU court of human rights I would guess....

The guy was an idiot, but still the case should go all the way as it has ramifications for everyone's free speech. People should think about what they say when it involves terrorism, but that does not mean the authorities should get to ride rough shoot over peoples off the cuff remarks. I think they should have to at least try to prove a little intent.

Since most people use on-line communication (especially twitter) to communicate the same why they would with someone standing right in front of them, it should be treated in the same way by the law. If this joke was told to a friend directly then it would not have had this problem.

Now if the statement had been written in an email (the main form of communication around when the telecommunication law was written) directly to the airport then no-one would be arguing....

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Coat

Brilliant

Fully support this action and take the Non out of the nonsense our anti-terror laws have become. (eg Shoot before you ask - remember that?).

Some civil servant in Tony Blair's cabinet had nothing better to do (rise of the Public sector work!) than pen this horrendous and nonsensical laws to patronise his war efforts and lies.

Let some sense prevail now,

We can learn from the French about public protests in public interests. We have given in (well, never actually protested) the monstrosity of what Labour did in curbing civil liberties. Its as if its them (elected represntatives) versus us (People who voted them in the first place). Definitley not democracy as is supposed to be.

Whens the hearing and trial?

Mines the one with bulletproof vests thats also with built in encryption for tweeter!

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Too damned lazy

The British public are too stupid, complacent and lazy to do what the French do.

Stupid - how often do you hear "if you have nothing to hide..." despite the well known historical arguements against that.

Complacent - how often do you hear that it "doesn't affect me so I don't care"

Lazy - how many people can be arsed to do anything about any affront to their well being - after all we did nothing about the war, nothing about Europe, nothing about the lack of referendum, nothing about the recent defence butchery, nothing about the curtainling of liberty over many years, nothing about the spy cameras, nothing about money making (sorry speeding) traps, nothing about the police brutality (shooting random tube travellers, beating newspaper sellers to death etc etc), nothing about the shit service in our shops, the over bearing condescending nature of 'public servants', the rape of our wallets to give to the already rich banking bosses, the anhilation of our entire way of life.....

No the people in Westminster know they can do what they like and we will gladly bend over and apply the KY to make it easier for them.

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Flame

Judge Jacqueline Davies is right

That tweet was "menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed."

Clearly, the People's Republic of China agreed, in their infinite infallible wisdom. Thank you, Jacqueline Davies, for leading us towards a harmonious society. Justice, with Chinese characteristics!

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/19/china_twitter_prison/

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Silver badge

I really don't think he is going to the High Court

The High Court is a court of first instance for sufficiently important civil cases and may hear appeals from county courts (which are also purely civil). It doesn't hear criminal cases.

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High Court Fail

The High Court doesn't hear criminal cases, it hears criminal appeals. It is a criminal appellate court for lower courts.

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*ahem*

http://bit.ly/d3Vxa4

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Really?

Well when I was at the Crown Court for the Appeal, I met the defence team - they seem to disagree with you.

The Queen's Bench Division handle appeals arising from Crown Court cases (criminal) based on points of law.

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Megaphone

Murderous curry muncher outed on national TV

http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA10254

just Sayin'!

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yep

I saw that advert and immediately thought of the twitter bloke - the advert is the BT one where the man clearly implies he wants to 'kill' his boss, but it's a play on words / double speak - what he is really saying is his boss makes him really mad sometimes, he uses kill to express his frustration but it's not literal

- twitterman is no different he was acting out an emotional drama on-line, no diffrent to a couple of football fans on different sides trading insults about each others players on facebook walls live during a match, anyone can read a facebook wall and join in - if one mate says my team will blow yours teams balls away - it doesn't mean literally either, law! blah!

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Right then...

Well personally, I reckon everyone's got an extra Christmas present to buy this year.

Go on - buy freedom a pressie!

http://www.tumblr.com/xsqa142m2

Martin.

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Good for him!

This case has been a ridiculous travesty of justice as a result of a humourless official and authorities who don't like people mocking their Security Theatre, so decided to make this poor sod a scapegoat.

Given that this message was so "menacing" (even though it was originally deemed "non-credible" and the Police said "there is no evidence at this stage that this is anything other than a foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see"), how come all the people who have re-tweeted it under the IAmSparatacus not also been arrested and charged? After all, that's clearly evidence of a mass threat to airport security...!

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Big Brother

#iamspartacus

if they do charge all of us, will Matrix Chambers send their star QC, a certain Cherie Booth, to help?

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Too busy

No, Cherie Booth will be too busy in the role of recorder, remonstrating with Muslim men for the crime of assault, and then letting them off because they are 'religious men'.

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FAIL

No jury

He's appealing his conviction for "for sending a menacing message over a public telecommunications system" in a magistrates court.

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Sympathy = Zero

I'm sorry but he should accept the ruling and move on. Twitter is a public communications network and unlike Facebook, messages are searchable rather than simply communications between friends. That means if you threaten to blow up an airport then your threat could be taken at face value. If he'd shouted such a comment in the street then people wouldn't have been surprised by such an outcome, yet the internet - which has considerably greater exposure - is somehow different?

Despite what some people here claim, his post - "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" - can very easily be construed as a threat. He's an idiot and he deserves the £3,000 fine and criminal conviction, if only for his terrible sense of humour.

People can't just behave like anything said on the internet is completely without consequence.

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Anonymous Coward

Sympathy = Absolute Zero

Totally agree with your comments. He was basically an idiot for posting something which sadly in these times of extremist terror attacks cannot and should not be taken lightly.

Whether or not he meant it the police would have to investigate, wasting their time and my tax payers money.

Just think of the news headlines and following public outrage if this type of comment had appeared on Twitter or anywhere else similar and a week later some nutter had blown up the airport? The police would have been blamed for not taking the threat seriously, people could have lost their lives! Consider that scenario all those who are supporting him.

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Taken out of context, anything can be threatening

After all, you just wrote "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!", didn't you?

Don't try to confuse us with nonsense about context, or intent, which is just what a deceitful, dissembling terrorist would do - this is a strict liability offence. Did you or did you not write those words and send them through a telecommunication system?

Oh noes, I did it too!

Now, if we can stop being mongs for a second, how about we do consider the context? If you insist on a meatspace analogy, then it's not shouting out a single statement on the street, it's bantering in a pub. If Judge Davie's hypothetical geezers were walking past an open window in said the pub, and chose to stick their heads in and listen, and heard only that single sentence, then they might feel menaced and alarmed.

However, if they'd been 5 seconds earlier or later, they'd have heard the banter proceeding it, or the laughter following it, and not soiled their adult nappies, would they?

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What a prince...

"He's an idiot and he deserves the £3,000 fine and criminal conviction, if only for his terrible sense of humour."

He deserves to be banned from air travel and have his career destroyed for a moment's frustrated outburst that jobsworths had to search for so they could be 'alarmed'? What does a vindictive authoritarian toady exhibiting deliberate malice deserve then?

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sort of

whilst I agree that he should have been fined or slapped on the wrist, the sentence was grossly disproportionate. I wouldnt dream of making such a joke inside an airport, so why do it outside? Stupid joke and yes he should be punished for being a muppet but not to the degree he has been.

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Heart

Sir

"He's an idiot and he deserves the £3,000 fine and criminal conviction, if only for his terrible sense of humour."

An idiot he might be, but if you are really so heartless as to condemn a man based on a poor sense of humour then I surely pity your long-suffering wife (I'm generously assuming you have one you might notice).

You might not like my little joke at your expense, so are you going to report me to the police and get me a criminal record so I never work in security again? A tad harsh don't you think?

Heart icon: because we could all do with a little more heart - the world is a cynical place and it can only be changed by us.

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Hey Jonas,

I think you have a terrible sense of humour too, so I think you should also be fined £3000 and get a criminal conviction. In other words, dont talk bollocks. Bad senss of humour and/or idiocy are NOT criminal offenses in this country, although you obviously think they should be, so you should probably be a civil servant.

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Jonas

Think about this post the next time you make a joking threat to someone. The conviction was inappropriate and the fine, if he had to have one at all, disproportionate.

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WTF?

You really shouldn't take everything in life literally.

Whilst Twitter is Searchable I think youd be hard pushed to say that 'searching' is equal to 'being sent'. the message could only be defined as 'sent', to that users subscribers or any user @'d in the message.

Whats more, 'construed' (as you say) does not equal intent. it is only an interpretation and does not show the literal intention. (which clearly does not exist)

"he deserves the £3,000 fine and criminal conviction, if only for his terrible sense of humour."

What are you the humor police? or just a fuckwit? thank fuck you have no authority, lets all strive to keep it that way.

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Undecided...

I'll admit that I've upvoted Jonas' comment because I think that it raises an important question.

Personally, I've always been in two minds about this whole Twitter Joke Trial stuff. On the one hand, I might have hoped that the Magistrates who first heard the case would have seen the nonsensical side of the whole thing and turfed it out of court with a simple verdict of committing gratuitous silliness in a public place.

But on the other hand, there is an important issue here. Many people (both here and elsewhere) have said that this guy's comment was no more than what you would say to your mates in the pub. But it wasn't really, was it? When you say something to your mates in the pub, they know you, there's context, there's body language and tone of voice and all the other myriad things that grease the wheels of everyday communications. Things that would have made it absolutely apparent that there was no serious intent. However, much as people like to think that Twitter is just the same thing by another means, it's not. With Twitter (or any other public online communications medium), you're not only talking to your mates, you're potentially talking to complete strangers. Complete strangers who - whether by intent or by misapprehension or just by dint of having a total sense of humour bypass - might take your ill-advised mutterings at face value. And that's where - I think - this whole trial stands or falls.

Now, IANAL, but I'm prepared to bet that sending a message such as this guy sent could in fact make him bang-on guilty of the offence as it stands in law. Certainly if someone - however foolishly as far as most of us are concerned - took it seriously and felt that it constituted a real threat. Again, IANAL, but I seem to recall that simply threatening someone with violence verbally - even if you have no intention of carrying the threat out - can be deemed to be an act of common assault or a public order offence IF the person so threatened believes you and fears that they are going to be subject to violence. The prosecution will always present a case at its highest - that's what they are supposed to do. It is then up to the defence to show that the case is incorrect or flawed or just plain wrong. How many of the hundreds or thousands of people commenting on this case (yes, including me) were actually present in any of the courts involved and could say how the case was presented on each side and on what basis the decision of the court was reached? Factually, it would seem that the guy sent the message, so he's not got much of a "wasn't me, guv" defence. And that may just be the sticking point in the whole story - if the prosecution managed to convince the Magistrates and the Judge (and whoever else) that someone took the threat seriously and believed it, then a guilty verdict probably isn't all that surprising - whatever we may think of it.

I also can't help being curious as to how many of the people who have howled and railed against this from a civil liberties/the law is an ass point view then went on to rant about and vilify the Tory councillor who tweeted about stoning Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. 'Cos if any of them did then we're looking at a rather large double-standards, served neat in a tall glass, are we not? (Of course, I'm sure that none of the good folks here at the Reg comments party would be guilty of such a schoolboy error.)

Anyway, as a last little thought experiment, imagine you're at the cinema with your mates and you hear someone behind you talking to their mates. They say something like "I'm f***ing sick of this place, it's full of scum and chavs - let's burn the f***er down!" What would you think or do?

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Black Helicopters

Jonas Taylor next for an arrest?

You quoted the offensive tweet, verbatim, Jonas, on a public medium. People could take that at face value.

I, of course, will give you no sympathy if/when the police arrest you for your comment.

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Title

"If he'd shouted such a comment in the street then people wouldn't have been surprised by such an outcome"

Yes they would. In fact if he'd shouted it in the street it would have been even less menacing, because in the flesh you can tell when someone is in a murderous rage and when someone is joking.

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But ...

@adrianww: "Certainly if someone - however foolishly as far as most of us are concerned - took it seriously and felt that it constituted a real threat."

It obviously wasn't taken at face value, as the threat was categorized as non-existent, and he was subsequently charged with a completely different offence to that under which he was arrested. The airport, police and CPS all were of the opinion that there was no threat.

What happened to the public interest test that the CPS are supposed to apply?

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Coat

Re Undecided

You hit the nail on the head with the comments about context based on no body language or vocal intonation to help. But surely that supports the view that you shouldn't rush to judge something as a threat until you have established the context? Quite clearly the police looked further than that one tweet and having done so managed to look at the context and determined there was no credible threat so why not the judge?

Without context so much changes. Your example: "They say something like "I'm f***ing sick of this place, it's full of scum and chavs - let's burn the f***er down!" What would you think or do?"

This sounds like a threat because you say "let's" which implies both encouragement and intent. If the fictitious sentence had been "I'm f***ing sick of this place, it's full of scum and chavs - if they don't open the doors soon I'm going to burn the f***er down!" it might raise a smile rather than be worrying.

Do you want someone else to have the power to jail you because they happen to overhear a comment which has no intent of ever being a threat but which when taken out of context and examined on the basis purely of the exact words you chose in your frustration rather than what you intended?

My view is that he did not threaten anyone. It was unwise and maybe thoughtless but no threat to anyone, as the security services also seem to have believed.

If you overheard him say it in a pub, you might turn around and look at him, he might say "What? I am so frstrated I could scream" and you would be reassured. The law should at least do the equivalent of that by considering context of the text in question.

It will be a miserable existence if jail time results from just happening to use the wrong words, as defined by others, once on a single occasion.

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Big Brother

Utter BS

This is an instance of the law being an ass since, even before twitter posters performed their Spartacus act, millions of similar remarks have been made online for many years (go read Usenet history for a few weeks, using Google's web interface if you want to see virtual blood). Singling one out for retribution is childish, selective, ill informed and not what is expected of a supposedly mature judicial system, employing finders and triers of *fact*, not speculation.

This shallow instance of mistrial not only shows a misunderstanding of the net, but also fails to take into account the fact that the so-called 'threat' was neither delivered to nor aimed at the body in question, was not delivered to anyone at all, but more resembled a child's plastic arrow, shot into the air, landing where it did.

The finders and triers of fact did not appear, to any degree, to have demonstrated intent, not to have shown a specific connection between the iterator of the alleged 'threat' and his supposed 'target' (other than being p*ssed off with the airport), no planning [...] actually what we have is an immature assessment of a remark clearly made in the heat of the moment (as any mature human ought to be capable of understanding), with no credible means of activation, including training, equipment and delivery mechanisms. The people who brought these charges would appear to have either responded as if Chambers' remarks were a personal threat to them, or to have taken exception to him, and this is another instance where the CPS is in urgent need of a swift, hard toecap to the crutch.

This is the legacy of 13 years of excessive legislation to cover even random farting in public places, the legacy of a box ticking culture where the letter rather than the spirit of the law is applied, a culture where police officers charge civilians for using a handkerchief whilst driving a car, a culture where things are taken literally and not for what they are, whilst simultaneously allowing its 'stars' to parade a shower of vitriol and stupidity (in return for vast sums of money), where a government can take its military forces to war on the basis of one sample of flimsy evidence and no corroboration, whilst making the MoD pay for their wars, not the contingency funds.

So perhaps I am unsurprised. Perhaps, if Iraquis can be slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands, on the authority of a naff presentation at the UN, and any fabrications that Tony Bliar can produce (remember the yellow cake episode?) that turn out to be false, then Chambers can be sent down for doing something that has been done millions of times before. Let's reopen the Gulag, let's put millions of people in clink for something they did not do, right?

Are readers aware that posting something online that can be construed - no matter how thin the evidence is stretched - to be a threat against the US President, they can be dealt with by the US judiciary/law? Are readers aware of the various devices sifting through online activities - these included - for evidence of a plot? That's it! Chambers was a plotter! Fegelein, bringen sie mir Fegelein!!!!

This is idiocy and the perpetrators are in need of that steel toecap to the groin. Several times. Idiota.

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Grenade

Hmm

What, because you say he 'should' he should? If something 'should' or 'must' be the case, it necessarily follows that a watertight justification underlies such a claim, usually an a priori one, but I see no such reasoning and, without one, there is no justification, if you understand my legal drift.

Had the man shouted in the street that he was about to blow up an airport - hardly likely to achieve stealth, you'll note - he'd at worst be given a plod section, followed by a Dr's section, followed by a hospital order. More likely disturbing the peace, move on.

You, however, would benefit from getting out a bit more in a place like the back streets of central London, having first viewed a few years of Usenet. It would help give you a sense of proportion, followed by a dose of reality. Try the south end of Waterloo Bridge, lower levels.

As to your suggestion that he deserved his conviction "if only for his terrible sense of humour", for that departure from the statute book no less than a confinement of several months is indicated, as you are very clearly a public danger.

HTH. HAND.

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Joke

DoS

The thing they could do is switch the airport setting and send tweets like "Damn! $LOCAL_AIRPORT is closed. You got a week and a bit to sort your stuff or I'm blowing up the airport sky high!".

Get someone else to "report" it as a threat.

Get arrested for sending the stupid joke.

Eventually the plods will be flooded by a zillion stupid cases, and it will actually have to dismiss all the stupidity, serving to dismiss Chambers' case as well. This would be called "Denial of Stupidity".

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Big Brother

Cynical? surely not ....

that'd be Ben Emmerson of Matrix Chambers, aka the professional home of Cherie Booth QC aka Mrs. Tony Blair, whose govt brought in the legislation her chambers is now disputing. That's just taking the p*ss.

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I am sparticus

ah go on. if everyone tweets similar sentiments then what are 'they' going to do?

I'm afraid that, after great expense, common sense will prevail....and we'll all forget

the hell this guy was forced to go through.

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Badgers

Tried to view comments THREE times...

...and received "Service Temporarily Unavailable The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.". So I clicked "Post a comment" and it worked.

Go figure...

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Grenade

In that case...

... they'd better get this comment system fixed in a week or I'm blowing The Reg sky-high!

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Anonymous Coward

waste of everyone's time and money

He will get no justice until the case can be escalated beyond our laughable legal system to the European Court

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@ Jonas Taylor

Tit.

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WTF?

So what would happen if...

..there was a national "send a message advocating the violent deconstruction of local infrastructure day" on Twitter?

Mass arrests?

Nothing?

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Coat

He should go for broke

...and make a humorous twitter post about how if things don't go his way he'll blow up the court.

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FAIL

The scales of justice need re calibrating

A throw away comment to friends leads to a full blown CPS intervention despite the Police themselves saying it was not credible, followed by a downgrade from a terrorism offence to something that can be heard by a magistrate and a conviction.

On the flip side we have an MP down Bristol way committing election fraud using twitter who gets a caution despite overwhelming evidence of the offence existing such that an idiot could have prosecuted the case successfully. (and before anyone comments that a caution is an admission of guilt, the use of it as a disposal leads to no discernable punishment)

And thats before Tomlinson and De Menzes.

In short the CPS seem to fail to understand the true meaning of "public interest", its certainly in the public interest to prosecute MP's that commit election fraud, police officers that attack demonstrators for no apparent reason and the woman in charge of the summary execution of an innocent member of the public.

The three they wouldnt prosecute are all part of the governmental machine, unfortunately for the twitter bloke he was just an ordinary member of the public so his sacrifice was assured.

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Well why hasn't a schoolboy been arrested as well ?

Read in the press of a schoolboy stating quite categorically, on Facebook, that he would "hijack a plane and crash it into" the house of another schoolboy ?

This threat, along with the other things he said, are a damn sight more credible than the garbage Chambers wrote.

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Anonymous Coward

Basis of the appeal

As I understand it the basis of the appeal is that:

1. The tweet wasn't menacing. Which is something which could be argued.

2. That it wasn't sent over a public electronic communications network. That one is an epic fail. I would have said that was a perfect description of the internet. As far as I can see this latter is wasting the court's time.

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Sent

I take issue with the word "sent" as in sent to the airport.

The message was only sent there if it had an explicit @ of the sirport or the suthority there.

Since it didn't, why on earth has Chambers' defence not picked up on this ?

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FAIL

Sorry but the law says nothing about who it is sent to, just that it is sent over a public communications network. The fact that it could be viewed by anybody with an internet connection means that not only could the air port staff have seen it, but passengers could have seen it and neigbours of the airfield could have seen it.

That's why the defence haven't picked up on it, it's a crap defence.

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