UK: Bad Taste Tweets Not Criminal

John Downes's picture

Pau Chambers, from Corby, England was due to fly from the local airport in January, 2010 when it began to snow heavily. He tweeted "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!". The tweet was read by 600 followers. He was reported to the police and was conviceted at Doncaster Magistrates Court for sending a "menacing communication". He insisted that it was just a joke. He was fined £350 ($547/€442) and ordered to pay £600 costs ($938/€758).

Chambers appealed to the Crown Court, supported by some eminent comedians. His appeal was rejected on grounds that the communication was menacing and that airport workers were sufficiently concerned to report it. He them appealed to the High Court where the conviction was quashed. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge (sic) said that context was everything. If people who received the message would consider it as silly or a bad taste joke, or empty or bombastic (sic) banter then it was a contradiction to call it menacing. It was certainly not sent in the context of terrorism and it had been wrong for the magistrate and crown courts to make such an association.

Thus, irony, wit and bad taste humour is not of itself criminal. However, a message that is intended to, and does, create fear and apprehension may be criminal.

There have been hostile and bad taste tweets made this week against 18 year old Team GB Olympic diver, Tom Daley, after he failed to win a medal. One insulting tweet referred to him having let down his father, who died last year. The sender, a 17 year old, received a police warning for harassment.

 

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