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England’s top judge to hear appeal in ‘Twitter joke trial’

Paul Chambers is appealing his conviction over an angry tweet in which he joked he would blow an airport “sky high”.

The Royal Courts of Justice in London. [File photo]
The Royal Courts of Justice in London. [File photo]
Image: swanksalot via Flickr

A BRITISH ACCOUNTANT who jokingly tweeted that he would blow an airport “sky high” when weather threatened to disrupt his travel plans will today have his appeal heard by the most senior judge in England and Wales.

Paul Chambers made headlines around the world when he was fined £1,000 in May 2010 for “sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” in his Twitter post.

In a tweet referencing his nearby airport in Nottingham, and his plans to travel to Belfast to see his girlfriend the following week, Chambers said:

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!!

The airport had been shut due to heavy winter snow.

The tweet went unnoticed for about a week until it was found by police making routine searches on Twitter. He was then arrested and eventually fined, losing his job in the process.

Chambers lost later appeals, unsuccessfully claiming his tweet was “obviously facetious”, and despite airport staff insisting the tweet had been “a non-credible threat” and “operationally nothing”.

The trial has become a highly publicised example of the limits to freedom of expression online, with Chambers winning support from the likes of Father Ted writer Graham Linehan and actor Stephen Fry, who has offered to pay Chambers’ legal fees.

The hashtag #iamspartacus later trended on Twitter as people reposted the offending message, conjoined with the hashtag, in an effort to underline what they felt was the absurdity of the appropriate law.

Later appeals went to the High Court, which unusually failed to reach a decision in February and ordered a new hearing – which will take place today in front of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Justice Owen.

The hearing is expected to conclude today, but with the ruling to be handed down at a later date.

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Gavan Reilly

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