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Twitter joke conviction: bomb tweet compared to Betjeman's poem 'Slough'

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A 27-year-old trainee accountant from the north of England appeared in court on Friday to appeal a conviction and £1,000 fine for joking on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood Airport.

Paul Chambers was arrested in January for sending a tweet deemed 'grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character' contrary to the Communications Act 2003.

The offending tweet read as follows: "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!!"

An off-duty airport manager found the message while doing an unrelated computer search and decided to report it to the police.

Appearing before District Judge Jonathan Bennett, Paul's solicitor described the episode as a 'Basil Fawlty outburst, which was immature, tasteless and unacceptable but not criminal'.

Judge Bennett failed to see the funny side, however, and in imposing a fine said that he was satisfied that the message was of a "menacing nature in the context of the times we live in".

At Friday's appeal hearing, Paul's barrister Stephen Ferguson said Judge's Bennett's decision should be overturned since the prosecution failed to prove the tweet was menacing.

"The tweet was obviously facetious," Ferguson said. "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.'"

Ferguson then drew a parallel between the tweet and the first stanza of Sir John Betjeman's poem 'Slough':

Come friendly bombs, fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Ferguson argued that if the court considered the tweet 'menacing', then surely Sir John's poem would also qualify.

The court also heard from Robin Hood Airport duty manager Sean Duffield who said the impact of the message was "operationally nothing. It had no impact."

The case has now adjourned until later this autumn.

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