When heavy snowfall threatened to scupper Paul Chambers's travel plans, he decided to vent his frustrations on Twitter by tapping out a comment to amuse his friends.Was he an idiot? You wouldn’t think so. Just someone online, doing what thousands of people do each day. Posting ironic comments limited to 140 characters.
"Robin Hood airport is closed," he wrote. "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
But in another sense, yes. Because we live in the kind of society where this happens:
Unfortunately for Mr Chambers, the police didn't see the funny side. A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat.More likely, interpreted his post as an easy, ‘tick the box’ job…
After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation, and has, he says, been banned from the Doncaster airport for life. "I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post," said Mr Chambers, 26. "I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."Well, yes. There’s another clue for exactly why this happened to you.
And it’s got far less to do with paranoid security forces, and far more to do with lazy jobsworths who, having had something ‘brought to their attention’, have to then ‘do something’ about it, even if that something exposes them to yet more contempt and ridicule from the public they are (ostensibly) paid to protect…
Mr Chambers said the police seemed unable to comprehend the intended humour in his online comment. "I had to explain Twitter to them in its entirety because they'd never heard of it," he said.*hollow laughter*
"Then they asked all about my home life, and how work was going, and other personal things. The lead investigator kept asking, 'Do you understand why this is happening?' and saying, 'It is the world we live in'. "No, it’s not. It’s the world you and others like you - that is to say, lazy, semi-competent timeservers looking for an easy life and unable or unwilling to use the brain in your head - are intent on making. There’s a difference…
After the interview, Mr Hale was returned to a cell for an hour then released. But, he said, not before the police deleted the post from his Twitter page.They deleted his post? What on earth for?
He has been bailed until 11 February, when he will be told whether or not he will be charged with conspiring to create a bomb hoax. In the interim, detectives have confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer.
The civil libertarian Tessa Mayes, an expert on privacy law and free speech issues, said: "Making jokes about terrorism is considered a thought crime, mistakenly seen as a real act of harm or intention to commit harm.Well said.
"The police's actions seem laughable and suggest desperation in their efforts to combat terrorism, yet they have serious repercussions for all of us. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable, even on Twitter."
But is anyone listening?
Cameron? Anything to say..? Here’s an open goal, are you capable of taking a kick at it? Or do you want to ask a few focus groups first?