Anorak

Anorak | Paul Chambers And The Twitter Police: Freedom Of Expression Under Attack

Paul Chambers And The Twitter Police: Freedom Of Expression Under Attack

by | 24th, September 2010

WHEN Paul Chambers told his Twitter followers he was going to blow Robin Hood’s Doncaster airport “sky high” he never meant it. There was no plot. He had no explosives or car. He had done no research into IEDs. It was an unthinking thought crime.

The 600-odd followers who read Chambers’ tweet – in the language of Twitter, he is their leader – did not take up arms and besiege Robin Hood airport. They did nothing aside from tweet.

But someone who seems to have searched for it, and who had deemed it a “non-credible” threat, sent it to the police – such is the process. The police, having arrested Chambers, forwarded it to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). There is no bomb but if the CPS can make an example of Chambers by saying he broke a law then the process can continue. We live in dangerous times and bomb hoaxes must be taken seriously.

Five police officers arrest Chambers at his place of work.

Do you have any weapons in your car?” they asked.

“I said I had some golf clubs in the boot,” Chambers told me. “But they didn’t think it was funny. I kept wondering, ‘When are they going to slap my wrists and let me go?’ Instead, they hauled me into a police car while my colleagues watched.”

So. On May 2010, Paul Chambers, 27, a trainee accountant, was found guilty of sending a menacing electronic communication by a district judge at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court.

Having been arrested, charged and found guilty by the system under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, Paul Chambers was fined £385 fine, ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge (for victims of actual crimes) and £600 costs. .

For this Tweet – what he calls an “innocuous hyperbole” – he sent on January 6, 2010, Paul Chambers has a criminal record:

“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!”

Paul Chambers is appealing against his conviction. And he has a case. David Allen Green says:

The CPS would be required to show proof of intent, which of course they could not.

He sums up:

The prosecutors of a section 127 offence need to show that an appropriate action occurred (the actus reus, in legal jargon) and that the defendant had a wrongful intention in doing this action (mens rea).

Paul’s tweet was not menacing – there is no actus reus. And he had no intention of sending a menacing communication – so there was also no mens rea.

Of course, one could take a different view to mine as to whetheractus reus was made out.

But it is misconceived to say that there was any wrongful intention.

However, the CPS regard the section 127 offfence as not needing any intention WHATSOEVER.

The CPS regard section 127 as a “strict liability” offence, which means they do not believe they have to provide any evidence at all of intention before they decide to prosecute someone.

Once the CPS have decided that there is evidence of menacing communication, that is enough for them to launch a prosecution.

And once the CPS prosecutes a strict liability offence then someone gets a criminal record, unless the judge intervenes.

As Chambers said back in January:

“My first thought upon hearing it was the police was that perhaps a member of my family had been in an accident. Then they said I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act and produced a piece of paper. It was a print-out of my Twitter page. That was when it dawned on me…

“I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they’d never heard of it. Then they asked all about my home life, and how work was going, and other personal things.”

The best line being:

“The lead investigator kept asking, ‘Do you understand why this is happening?’ and saying, ‘It is the world we live in’.”

No. It is the world created by idiots and authoritarian nutjobs and upheld by the brainless in uniform.

Update 1: In court, Chambers’ brief barrister Stephen Ferguson tells Judge Jacqueline Davies:

This [message] is obviously facetious. There are at least three exclamation marks. The first to add to the slightly naughty word ‘crap’. The last two to the parody of ‘to blow the airport sky high.'”

Upsdate 2: After Chambers was bailed a copper noted – and this was not presented at first trial:

“…there is no evidence at this stage this is anything other than a foolish comment posted on Twitter for only his close friends to see”.

Update 3: Case ajourned.

The girl Chambers was to meet in Belfast:

Waiting waiting waiting…. Could cry, but I won’t cos I’m bad ass. Massive thanks to EVERYONE. *cries*



Posted: 24th, September 2010 | In: Key Posts, Reviews Comments (3) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink