Paul Chambers: The case of the malicious tweet

February 6, 2017


The Judge

Paul Chambers, a frustrated air traveller, tweeted in exasperation at the delays to his flight. The tweet was to change his life, and not for the better

Our story starts in January 2010.  Snow was adding to travellers problems’ including those at Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport

A young accountant was in danger of damaging his planned romantic meeting. In heavily ironic tones he tweeted

that unless service improved, he would be back in a week to blow up the airport.

Pause for reader reaction

The cautious me suggests that if security learned of the tweet, it might prompt the mildest of low-cost checking to see if the tweet was intended as. Joke (say 99% probability) or a bizarre early warning of terrorism intentions (say 1% probability).

What happened next

According to the report of the court case, Mr Chambers was en route to Belfast to consummate a twitter romance in real life. Failing to make his flight, the thwarted suiter returned to work when the local police arrived, and hauled him off into custody.

Legal proceedings followed, which resulted in a fine for which the appeal was originally turned down.

Eventually his high court challenge was successful, as The Guardian reported


Paul Chambers, who was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet, has won his high court challenge against his conviction. Outside the court, he said he felt “relieved and vindicated”, adding: “It’s ridiculous it ever got so far.”

He had tweeted in frustration when he discovered that Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire was closed because of snow. Eager to see his girlfriend, he sent out a tweet on the publicly accessible site declaring: “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!!”

He has always maintained that he did not believe anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously.

The lord chief justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said:

“We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the crown court that this ‘tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed.”

Twitter to the rescue

As the mills of justice had ground on, twitter had sprung to the rescue. Celebrity twitter comedians such as Stephen Fry offered moral support, the spotlight of publicity, and some bankrolling of legal charges.

Not the only case

The tweeter appeared on Radio Five Live today [February 3rd, 2017]. He seemed a remarkably sanguine victim of wrongful arrest and of the loss of his job. His new wife too has given him moral support. (I’m not sure yet if she was the object of his snow-abandoned flight in 2010.)

I added this case to my collection of stories about twitter going viral over injustices visited on tweeters. Airline passengers have appeared quite frequently in the stories. [See Dilemmas of Leadership .]

Lessons learned

Twitter is a good friend but can be your worse enemy. A lesson there for Donald Trump perhaps?


Curling is big in Sochi, toe-curling is bigger at the Baftas

February 17, 2014

Baftas night is normally a stay-in-and-watch-a-DVD night

The beguiling DVD obtained for that very purpose turned out to be so bad we exercised our democratic right to vote against it and opted instead to see what the great British public had done with their democratic right to vote for the Not the Oscars awards, aka The British Academy Film and Television Awards, aka [this year] The Orange Baftas.

Evidence of leadership abounded, even of leaders we deserve because we voted for the winners.  In true post- modern style Stephen Fry brought a veneer of languid sophistication to the event.   His mocking hyperbole for the presenters  of the awards just about managed to imply they were not exactly the wonderful beautiful supremely gifted and loveable people he described, perhaps not even as wonderful [etc] as Stephen Fry.  That being said, Fry still had the most amusing and witty remarks of the evening, as well as some at the other end of the scale which helped me associate with the other story of wonderful beautiful supremely gifted and loveable people at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Here, in London, for a few hours, curling was transformed into toe curling.

Social Media and One-way Traffic Systems

November 8, 2010

Public Service institutions may be sticking too closely to old assumptions about communications as they start using social media channels. There is evidence of too much metaphoric one-way traffic, in situations which cry out for two-way systems

This is a local story (although it may have wider interest). Regular subscribers will know that I work in the Manchester metropolis. Recently, [Nov 3rd 2010] something struck me about the way local authorities involve in social media as evidenced by their Tweeting activities.

The Manchester Police get it

I was most impressed last week when the Greater Manchester Police decided to have a 24-hour period tweeting everything that was happening on the beat. Great, I thought. Leaders of our thin blue line have got the idea of social media. Fast friendly communications. Well done.

So what about the local authorities?

Then Twitter suggested I might like to follow the tweets of Manchester City Council. Why not, I thought? If the police are starting to experiment with Twitter, maybe the regional politicos are at it as well. So I got on to the Manchester Council Twitter Site to find out. I rather liked the personal tone of some of the messages. But there was something not quite right. I had a growing feeling that a lot of the traffic was a bit ‘one-way’. That is to say it was sent out into the internet without a great attempt to connect up with the audience. I had noticed the same sort of thing in the operation of celebrity twitter sites.

So I looked at the sites of a few more local authorities. The sense of one-way traffic systems persisted. As a matter of fact Manchester turned out to among the sites which did provide more personalised messages which inviting two-way traffic. However, I began to think of a way of measuring the amount of one-way traffic around any paarticular site.

The signal for one-way traffic

The ratio of followers to people being followed may be a crude starting signal. Celeb sites tend to have a ratio showing many people following, to few people they follow. This is one-way traffic. [There are also a few sites which have the opposite ratio of following many people to having few followers. This is a different kind of one-way traffic.]

The follower/following ratio

Whipping on an academic hat, I suspect there will be value in examining more closely the follower/following ratio. It’s tempting but a bit simplistic assume that a ratio of 1:1 will be appropriate in every case.

Manchester City has a ratio of ‘following’ to ‘followers’ of about 1:3, which is higher than most sites I visited. Stockport Metropolitan Borough, in contrast has a percentage of about 1: 200.

There is someone out there

So I sent Manchester City a tweet [Nov 3rd 2010] “@ManCityCouncil Why do public service sites think social media is about sending your message out to a receptive world?”

To my pleasure I got a reply later the same day, which sort of confirms my point about the receptivity of the Manchester Council site. There is someone out there in a two-way traffic system. Stockpost has not as yet replied…

The dilemma of firewalls

The challenge of achieving the full potential of social media is made more difficult by the presence of fire-walls and the concern of ‘leakage’ of sensitive information beyond them. These issues concern many executives in public and private sectors alike. The dilemma is an important one, and calls for leadership, judgement, and creativity.

From reactive to proactive?

The brief experiment helped change my jaundiced view about Manchester City Council’s receptivity to the community based on one set of social media. More broadly, the initial evidence suggests that here is still much that can be done to go from reactivity to proactivity, as one-way become converted to two-way communication systems.


August 20, 2009

Fry Agnew by Warne

Fry Agnew by Warne

Twitter down.
Foul deeds

A cricket match
A photoflash of suited guys
and glossy gals
produced the crash
No ordinary chaps
but treasures of the land
no ordinary snaps
no normal flasher’s shaking hand