The Twitter “Bomb Hoax” case: worse than we thought?

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  • Is there no organization that could have filed an amicus curiae on this case? It seems ridiculous to me that he should have pleaded guilty to this when it's likely a conviction would have been overturned in a European court. This example (I'm familiar with it) is so obviously protected free speech.

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  • In response to Marianne, the case has been publicized elsewhere. In context, it is clear that this was a free expression of hyberbole. See this article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/twitter-joke-led-to-terror-act-arrest-and-airport-life-ban-1870913.html

    ' When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers's travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends. "Robin Hood airport is closed," he wrote. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" '

    It was not meant to be taken literally, but apparently one person took it that way and phoned the police, who ought to have been able to use their common sense filters to see it for what it was. I could tweet "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." I would not expect to be receiving angry letters from the RSPCA. The broad view that the CPA have taken in this case threatens all sorts of expression. For example, this view would have held that the BBC committed a crime when it broadcast Jerry Springer the Opera, as it used a public communications channel to transmit electronically something "grossly offensive, or of an indecent obscene or menacing character”. I find this highly objectionable.

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  • @Marianne:

    No one's disputing that the Communications act should be used in the kind of cases you mention. But those are genuine cases of threats being made. Do you really think it should be used when the message was taken as a joke by the recipient?

    "it is absolutely right that there should be a law extending to social networking sites that prevents people going beyond normal comment and banter into specific unlawful threats."

    But not one that prevents normal comment and banter simply because someone, somewhere might be thick enough to believe it's a genuine threat.

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  • Overall, I do happen to agree with Marianne, whose thoughtful contribution answered two of the nagging questions preying on my mind after reading this article.

    I think that the biggest difficuly in this arena is that there is seemingly no hard-and-fast demarcation line which we can use to sort out the jokers from e.g. the Richard Reid types who might not present as motivated, would-be bombers with strategic intent, but who are essentially just as dangerous. The police & the much-maligned CPS) have a very hard balancing act to carry out, and call me a cynic but in my view, as with child protection workers, it is only when the police get things wrong and people are hurt, that the libertarians suddenly become conspicuous by their absence and (atypical) silence.

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  • @onyidzin

    Don't assume that nobody is hurt when the police overstep their authority or that those who oppose this type of overextension are libertarians by nature. Paul Chambers was suspended from his job pending in investigation on charges of gross misconduct (bringing the company into disrepute). I am not aware of any resolution to this disciplinary action. He was also initially banned for life from Robin Hood airport, although that has since been lifted. We are all injured by the infringement of others' civil liberties. A case such as this could serve as a precedent in many others. Plus its simply a waste of publicly funded man hours chasing down such red herrings as this. The big problem here is that there is no burden for the CPS to prove the Chambers intended his remarks to be taken literally (as a threat). In context it's clear to me that his intention was hyperbole to express his exasperation. I fell into nearly the same trap on Twitter myself when I once tweeted something to the effect of "If I hear one more politican say the US govt heath plan will 'unlplug grandma' I'm gonna get on a plane and unplug theirs myself'.

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  • A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

    Praise the Lord -- "trolling" on the internet is illegal! Could somebody let the commenters on Guido Fawkes know?

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  • An interesting contribution by Marianne which eloquently puts the other side of the story. But I'm afraid this "we have to take it seriously" argument does not wash.

    Take it seriously up to and including questioning of the individual if you must; the moment it became clear that this was a stupid joke (which was arguably at the moment the reasonable person would have read Chambers' tweet), the investigation should have gone no further. That it did, and that a prsecution has resulted, is a colossal waste of public money. He is being made an example of, but this also sets a dangerous precedent. A facetious example this may be, but does this mean I now can't tweet that David Cameron should take a running jump off Beachy Head without being arrested and charged with incitement to commit public nuisance?

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  • Here is a link to a letter of complaint that I intend to send today to the CPS and other interested parties. Please get behind this with me if you agree:

    http://flay.jellybee.co.uk/2010/03/cps-v-paul-j-chambers.html

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  • At last Marianne points out the obvious. My concern here is that chances are most of you above are lawyers, possibly even qualified. Not one of you points out that you have not had any sight whatsoever of the evidence and yet you all deem fit to criticise a decision made on facts you haven’t seen.
    I agree that the extension of any law may be unwelcome but in this case this is the kind of instance this Act was aimed at. It, as is rightly pointed out, is there to deal with those people who don't go far enough but are none the less threatening or menacing. I can not help but agree with Marianne that, having dealt with numerous case of domestic violence, stalking and harassment over the years, that the law should protect people from threats regardless of either receipt or not or even if they are unaffected by the message.
    Consider someone who rings your place of work, makes some vague threat about a device but doesn’t mention explosions, bombs, chemicals etc. Perhaps he, as pointed out, may be dissatisfied with the service he received and this message is where he "F**ked up". You may ignore it or it could cause widespread panic, evacuation etc. Either way the response is not the issue, it is the criminality of making the menacing call in the first place.
    Generally the article is thought provoking and clearly has stimulated debate. but lets base our judgments on the evidence, not someone’s opinion.

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  • This seems to be yet another example of the CPS/police going off the deep end on an issue which was clearly a joke, when the practical reality on the ground is that there are all too many instances of real crime where they do nothing.

    My own case in point: about 5 years ago I received not one but two anonymous death-threats left on the voicemail on my mobile phone, naming me but a voice I didn't recognise.

    I went to the police who advised me to play my voicemails - which I had saved - into a tape recorder to save them, as their procedures were too slow and the mobile phone company would have deleted the msg and call record by the time they got to it. Then when I got ANOTHER death threat, they could act as a 'watch' would have been set up on my line, and the first two instances used as proof of malice.

    By which time of course I could be dead. Gee, thanks.

    This latest nonsensical prosecution and warping of the law seems to me to be yet another example of the state (police/CPS) wanting to tape down every single possible avenue of dissent (public assembly, public criticism, humour...) by creating precedent which can be swiftly relied upon to quickly crush any non-mainstream thought or communication.

    Call me paranoid, but...

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