An accountant convicted of sending a menacing tweet about the closure of Robin Hood airport due to snow has renewed a challenge against his fine.
Paul Chambers was supported by broadcaster Stephen Fry and comedian Al Murray as three judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, started a review of his case at the High Court.
He was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending “a message of a menacing character”, contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.
He said he sent the tweet to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after the South Yorkshire airport was shut by snow in January 2010, and never thought anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously.
It 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!”
A Crown Court dismissed his appeal in November 2010, saying that the electronic communication was “clearly menacing” and that airport staff were sufficiently concerned to report it.
Opening a new attempt to overturn his conviction and sentence, John Cooper QC told the High Court that the wrong legal tests had been applied.
He said that the message was sent on a timeline on Twitter to Chambers’s followers and not as a randomly searched for communication, and the relevant section of the Act was never intended by Parliament to deal with messages to the “world at large”.
The circumstances of the offence of a “menacing character” had a higher legal threshold than that of a “threatening character”. Not all threats were menaces, counsel said.
To constitute a menace, he added, the threat must be of such a nature so that the mind of an “ordinary person of normal stability and courage” might be influenced.
Also, the person sending the message must intend to threaten the person to whom the message was sent – in other words, it was a crime of specific intent.