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Free speech: High Court hears that decision on 'airport tweet' makes the law look silly

The High Court has heard how a man found guilty of sending a "message of a menacing character" on Twitter was the victim of a legal steamroller which was in danger of making the law look "silly".

High Court judges have reserved judgment, which will be handed down at a future date.

The appellant in the case is Paul Chambers. Mr Chambers was convicted at Doncaster Magistrates Court of sending "a message of a menacing character" contrary to the Communications Act 2003.

The case concerned a message placed on the social network site, Twitter. Mr Chambers had been held at Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire in January 2010 after the airport was closed by snow.

In his message, Mr Chambers stated that he would like to blow the airport "sky high", a message which was directed to his 600 followers on Twitter. He has since said the message was intended as a joke, and was posted during a moment of frustration. Mr Chambers said he thought no one would ever take his comment seriously.

However airport staff were alerted to the tweet, and took the matter seriously enough to report it to the police.

Convicting Mr Chambers of the offence, Doncaster Magistrates ordered him to pay a £385 fine and £600 costs. Costs in the case were then increased to £2600 after Mr Chambers appealed to Doncaster Crown Court in November 2010. Upholding the conviction, Crown Court Judge Jacqueline Davies said the message was clearly menacing.

"We find it impossible to accept that anyone living in this country, in the current climate of terrorist threats, would not be aware of the consequences of their actions in making such a statement," she said.

Buoyed by support from Twitter comedians Charlie Brooker, Stephen Fry and Al Murray, Mr Chambers has now taken his appeal to the High Court.

Speaking outside afterwards, comedian Al Murray gave his opinion on the case: "I defend everyone's right to tell rotten jokes. This situation is Monty Python. It is absurd, bonkers. It means we cannot post what we want on Twitter, or say what we want: that is incredible to me."

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