Trainee accountant Paul Chambers becomes the first Briton to be convicted of a criminal offence because of something he wrote on Twitter.
Chambers writes about the experience 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.
Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.
I never expected to be charged, but a month later I was: not under the offence of making a bomb threat, for which I was originally arrested, but under the communications act for the offence of sending a menacing message. This first appeared to be an absolute offence, much the same as speeding: conviction does not depend on mens rea. For a stupid mistake, I was faced with the prospect of a career-ruining criminal conviction. After fresh legal advice it turned out I could argue I had no intention and awareness to commit the crime, and I could plead not guilty. Even after all the preceding absurdity and near-breakdown-inducing stress, I was confident common sense would prevail in my day in court.
Unfortunately, yesterday I was found guilty and ordered to pay Â£1,000 in fines and legal costs, which I have to find along with my own legal costs of another Â£1,000. I am considering an appeal, though I have no means, having left my job due to the circumstances.
This is, of course, quite, quite mad. Chambers writes of the overwhelming support he has received on Twitter, but obviously this should never have gone this far. But it has, and we now have precedent, and it’s something that all of us need to observe with caution and alarm. Tread carefully.
(Source: The Guardian.)