The Twitter trial should never have happened

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Be careful what you tweet, especially if you're joking

Paul Chambers has been acquitted: it turns out that posting "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!" isn't actually menacing, let alone a threat akin to the IRA calling in a bomb threat with a recognised code word.

I don't agree with Louise Mensch very often, but she was absolutely right when she described the case as "a shameful prosecution that should never have been brought."

Still, it's not as if Chambers lost his job over it or spent two years fighting to clear his name.


Never mind, though. Thanks to today's verdict, we don't have to worry about being prosecuted for jokes we make on social networks.

Do we?

Escalation and arse-covering

I'm finding it hard to express just how screwed-up the whole Chambers case has been. As the judgement reports in some detail [PDF], nobody who originally saw Chambers' tweet found it offensive, and the off-duty head of security at Robin Hood Airport only discovered the tweet five days later when he went searching for relevant messages. The tweet "was never sent to him or to the airport".

The tweet went from airport security to airport police, from airport police to local police, and from local police to the Crown Prosecution Service. It's hard to shake the feeling that the whole thing has been escalated by people who knew full well that Chambers' tweet was a joke, but who wanted to cover their own arses - and who presumably thought that at some point, somebody would say "hang on! This is bollocks!"

Nobody did.

As I wrote about the original prosecution, "To involve the police isn't just a sense of humour failure; it's crying wolf in a new and chilling way - and it's wasting resources that would be better spent on the people who use the Internet to hurt and harass."

What worries me about the case is this: while the Chambers case has finally been exposed as a travesty, the mentality that led to him losing his job and being dragged through the courts lives on.

As @heardinlondon posted on Twitter this morning: "I'd bet a fiver if you replaced 'Robin Hood Airport' with 'London2012' we'd be back to square one."

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.