Controversial terrorism law used to arrest British man for ill-advised joke

I became aware of this story on Wednesday but have been unable to mention it until today due to some promises:

Doncaster man Paul Chambers, 26, was arrested by police under the provisions of the Terrorism Act (2006) ֠for making a joke on the social networking site Twitter.

Chambers, who has no connections to any extremist organisations, made an ill-advised remark after flights being grounded by recent icy conditions. Some days later he was arrested in his workplace. Now suspended from work and banned from Robin Hood airport, Chambers is waiting to discover if he will face charges ֠and the sack.

For all the arguments about freedom of speech not extending to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre, it’s worth noting that Chambers was not in a “theatre”, crowded or otherwise, he was making an obvious joke on the internet. Interestingly, it took police a week to arrest him, suggesting they didn’t really consider him a threat to national security.

  • Stephen Blacker

    Jason Walsh,

    I heard this man talk on the radio last night on Nolan Radio 5Live. 6 police officers came to get him, he first thought it was a joke but that soon faded. The Twitter message he sent was not directed to anyone so it was just out in Tweet space.

    This was a terrible waste of police resources and very much an over the top reaction to a nothing threat to our national security. The 6 officers admitted that they did not know how Twitter works but Paul Chambers was wrong to send it.

    Our Freedoms are getting squeezed big time, the Government should issue us with a list of words we must never use.

  • Alias

    It’s a tough call. He did make a threat to blow up an airport, so that was a bit dumb.

    As John Wayne said, “Smile when you say that.” It’s a bit hard to tell that he was joking since the statement was made through a medium that conveys no supporting clues about personality and doesn’t have inflection.

    I guess the lesson is don’t assume that folks know you’re joking.

  • Miss Fitz

    Am I missing something? The guy threatens the airport by saying they have a week to ‘get it together’ otherwise he will blow it up.

    That’s just stupid, and he deserves to be arrested and whatever else is coming to him.

    You just don’t joke about these things any more, it has become a bit too serious for that with more than one plane coming out of the sky and others under serious threat freom extremists. Are we meant to assume he was harmless? Good on the police for following up

  • Jason Walsh

    A week later? And arresting him in work, causing him to be suspended and potentially lose his job? And possibly destroy his career prospects?

    You don’t think they could have handled this any other way?

    It’s another case of the police acting as a theatre troupe rather than law enforcement – it’s all for show.

    And “You just don’t joke about these things any more” doesn’t hold water. All jokes are rooted in exaggeration, that is why they are funny. You can joke about anything you like. There may be consequences to a joke but they should be proportionate.

  • al

    I’ve said much worse on social networking sites. Fortunately people understand what sarcasm and humour is. Maybe it’s the old case of the English being a bit humourless and sour?

  • The Raven

    I’m with Jason on this. Fear is the key to control, control further achieved by making people think “we’re watching you at all times”.

    “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live —did live, from habit that became instinct— in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

    CCTV. Spooks. Body scanners. Watching the blogs. Any wire, whenever they want.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Law enforcement officials need to exercise DISCRETION i.e. an informed judgment on when to act or not to act or to rap someone’s knuckles or take more serious action. This is overkill and a big waste of resources. The police ignorance about Twitter is revealing. Yes, people need to be careful about saying foolish things on the web/Twitter but the authorities need to make distinctions between what is a potentially serious threat and what is a stupid remark with no ill intent. The authorities need to stop operating in Orwellian mode and posters need to wise up and know their daft comments may have consequences. Priorities…..

  • Alias

    [i]“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!!”

    Technically, it wasn’t a joke. It attempts to exaggerate the level of anger that the average person would be expected to feel as a result of the inconvenience of a local airport closing for some reason (presumably bad weather) but it miscalculates by implying that this anger would naturally be expressed in some violent act against the airport installation. Since the set up line was the inability of the airport to cope with bad weather, the punch line should have been related to it.

    If you make a literal threat then you really shouldn’t be surprised when others read it literally. As I said, there are no visual or audio clues via this medium or knowledge of the personality of the person to qualify the meaning of the statement accordingly. He might have been making the statement to his online friends who knew he was ‘joking’ but it was published outside of that group.

    It isn’t appropriate to threaten to use violence in a context where the statement can be read only literally. Most people know this and act accordingly, so while you might say “One more dumb word out of you and I’ll pulverise your numbskull into the world’s dumbest dust!” to your friend offline, you would never threaten someone online (however comically) because the vital clues that mitigate the statement are missing.

    If someone reported the threat that he made, then I assume that the police would have to investigate it. A week doesn’t seem a long delay for something that the police had a duty to investigate but did not rate as a high risk. The fact that they didn’t send in the armed police to arrest him away from the public suggest that they knew they were not dealing with a dangerous terrorist.

    As for the state watching you: well, it generally doesn’t want you to know the extent of it but everything is monitored in secret. The UK employs 12,000 people in 20 eavesdropping stations.

  • Alias

    [/i]Closing italics[/i]

  • Marcionite

    The police took a week to turn up? excellent, nice to see them improve their response time by about 2 days in that case

  • Scaramoosh

    Thought Crime …Just wait until they work out a way to read peoples’ minds..

  • Jaggers

    If the joke was indeed

    “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!!

    then the police probably had to investigate. They get criticized often enough for not acting and given the modern proclivity for genuine wrongdoers to immortalize their acts on the interwebs beforehand, on balance I think the police did their job.

    Released on bail and banned from one airport for life? Is someone making an example of this? There is another case from about a week ago of 3 people being arrested for allegedly making threats in Heathrow to blow up a plane – it seems these people were a little worse the wear with drink. Again, are the police and others sending a message that you need to be careful about threats you make even in jest? Sorry, I’m not as dumbfounded or outraged as I think I’m expected to be with this story…

    How does Jason arrive at the conclusion “he was making an obvious joke on the internet”? What’s “obvious” about it? “Crap!”? Does it always need a recognised codeword to make it authentic?

  • tuatha

    As Raven implies, what does it say about the astonishingly detailed (however inept)that is now commonplace.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Wonderful story for Daily mail readers and the type of people who phone Jon Gaunts Radio Phone In. A bit like when the SAS turned up at a nursery school when one of the three year olds started singing “ba Ba Black Sheep”.
    “Political correctness gone maaaaaad…..innit?”

    Of course Mr Paul Chambers (26) has the distinct advantage of not LOOKING like the type of person who might blow up an airport. Rather unfortunately a Brazilian LOOKED different in Stockwell Tube Station. So “we” must support “our” police. Difficult job that they do. Give that woman a medal……but wait a few years for the Sake of Decency.

    If Mr Paul Chambers (26) had converted to Islam and twittered or tweeted……he would not be portrayed as a victim.

  • JaneJeffers

    “That’s just stupid, and he deserves to be arrested and whatever else is coming to him.”

    yes Miss Fitz, let’s execute him.

  • JaneJeffers

    If extreme stupidity or even occasional stupidity is criminal, then 99% of the population should be lnterred.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Well if life out in the big bad world gets too tough for any of us or we have not made adequate pension arrangements then we can get food and accomodation sorted out Ta Very Much.

    I am off to make “my arrangements”

    Can you get Slugger O’Toole (24/7)on the other side of the bars.