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Tweeter cleared of sending menacing airport threat

By Dave Gilbert, CNN
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
Messages of support flooded into Twitter following the court verdict to clear Paul Chambers of sending a menacing tweet.
Messages of support flooded into Twitter following the court verdict to clear Paul Chambers of sending a menacing tweet.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Chambers was originally fined £385 ($603) for sending a "menacing tweet"
  • The case has highlighted the arguments about the limits of free speech on the internet
  • The UK court ruled that the tweet was treated and addressed as if it was not a credible threat
  • High profile comics sent messages supporting the Chambers' appeal

London (CNN) -- Celebrity comedians were among hundreds who on Friday welcomed a UK court ruling that cleared a man of sending a tweet joking about blowing up an airport.

The case has highlighted the arguments for and against the limits of free speech on the internet.

Paul Chambers was originally fined £385 ($603) and ordered to pay thousands in court costs after being found guilty in 2010 of sending a "menacing tweet" that read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s--- together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high."

He claimed it was a joke and sent it during a moment of frustration while the airport in the north of England was closed by snow.

The original trial heard that the tweet was discovered when an airport manager, who was not a Twitter member, searched for "Robin Hood Airport" on the social networking site.

Thousands of people joined an online campaign to support Chambers, retweeting his message, and recently posting Twitter comments under the hashtag #twitterjoketrial.

The high-profile British actor, broadcaster and prolific tweeter, Stephen Fry, said Friday: "Complete vindication and victory for Paul Chambers in #twitterjoketrial. Well done @DavidAllenGreen and team."

In its ruling, the court said: "The appeal against conviction will be allowed on the basis that this 'tweet' did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character.

"It was treated and addressed as if it was not a credible threat. The airport police took no action."

The verdict prompted a grateful response from Chambers who said to his Twitter followers: "We couldn't have done this without you, we wouldn't have got close."

British comedian Frankie Boyle tweeted: "#twitterjoketrial means comedians will feel more secure tweeting jokes and people making threats will try work in some humour. It's Win-Win."

Another British actor and comic, Ricky Gervais, who has notched up major TV successes on both sides of the Atlantic, was more provocative in his reaction, tweeting: "Original Judge in The Paul Chambers twitter joke trial admits he was only joking when he convicted Paul."

Ben Goldacre, a prominent author and scientist, added: "He may have got off, but after years of angst and expense #twitterjoketrial is a disappointing stain on the credibility of the UK judiciary."

Defense solicitor in the case, David Allen Greene, was equally scathing in his reaction, tweeting: "This shameful prosecution should never have been brought. The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] made the personal decision to oppose the appeal. Disgraceful."

The hashtags #Paul Chambers and #twitterjoketrial were both trending in the UK Friday, but if anyone was opposed to the verdict they were not immediately visible on the social networking site.

In contrast, hundreds of tweets supported the court decision, with one poster calling himself The Sev, summing up the sentiments of many of them: "Today the courts ruled you're allowed to make jokes on Twitter."

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