Paul Chambers' conviction for sending a 'message of a menacing character' has been overturned after two judges found he did not intend his tweet to be menacing and there was no evidence anyone found it to be so.
The Chambers case, known as the Twitter joke trial, has become a cause celebre for freedom of expression campaigners and stemmed from a tweet sent to his 600 followers in January 2010 after Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire was closed by snow in 2010.
The tweets referred to in court were as follows:
'@ Crazycolours: I was thinking that if it does then I had decided to resort to terrorism"
'@ Crazycolours: That's the plan! I am sure the pilots will be expecting me to demand a more exotic location than NI"
And: 'Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!!"
Chambers was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs at Doncaster magistrates court in May 2010 after being convicted of sending 'a message of a menacing character'in contravention of the 2003 Communications Act. His initial Crown Court appeal was turned down in November 2010.
But today Lord Chief Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams upheld his action against the Director of Public Prosecutions and overturned his conviction.
The judgment said: 'There was no evidence before the Crown Court to suggest that any of the followers of the appellant's 'tweet', or indeed anyone else who may have seen the 'tweet' posted on the appellant's time line, found it to be of a menacing character or, at a time when the threat of terrorism is real, even minimally alarming.
'In fact nothing was done about it by anyone until 11 January 2010, some five days later when the duty manager responsible for security at Robin Hood Airport, while off duty at home, found it."
The court heard that Mr Duffield found the message while searching generally for tweets referring to the airport. He referred the message to his manager, a Mr Armson who – as a matter of standard practice – referred it to the airport police.
The airport police took no action, but decided to refer the matter on to the South Yorkshire police.
The South Yorkshire police arrested Chambers while he was at work two days later, on 13 January, on suspicion of involvement in a bomb hoax.
In interview he was asked whether some people might get a bit jumpy as a result of his message and he responded 'yah. Hmm mmm".
On 10 February 2010, when the police investigation was completed, one of the investigating officers recorded the following observation on the South Yorkshire Police Crime Management System:
'Male detained re making threats to Doncaster Robin Hood Airport. The male in question has been bailed and his phone/computer has been seized – there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that there is anything other than a foolish comment posted on 'Twitter' as a joke for only his close friends to see."
But after the police sought advice from the Crown Prosecution Service Chambers was charged with breaching the Communications Act 2003 and sending a message of a 'menacing character".
Overturning his conviction, today's High Court judgment states: 'No weight appears to have been given to the lack of urgency which characterised the approach of the authorities to this problem, while the fact that those responsible for security at the airport decided to report it at all, which was treated as a significant feature, rather overlooked that this represented compliance with their duties rather than their alarmed response to the message.
'By contrast, disproportionate weight seemed to be placed on the response of the appellant in interview to how 'some' people might react."
The judgment states: 'if he may have intended the message as a joke, even if a poor joke in bad taste, it is unlikely that the mens rea required before conviction for the offence of sending a message of a menacing character will be established".