They were handed another one by the confirmation of Paul Chambers' conviction in Doncaster today. At a magistrates court hearing in May he was found guilty of sending a menacing electronic communication after posting a joke about blowing up the local airport on Twitter. According to BBC News, he was originally was fined £385 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge. Today he was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2600.
Chambers' conviction strikes at our conception of what it means to be English. Whatever faults we might own up to, we value our ability to make a joke of everything. That was how we won the war, wasn't it?
Or as Heresy Corner puts it:
What has been on trial is the possibility of humour itself, the right of a freeborn Englishman to be facetious as and when he feels like it, about any subject whatsoever.
Against that age-old national instinct to make light of adverse circumstances - the spirit that got us through the Blitz - we now find a new and alien notion that there are some things that are beyond joking, that even an obvious joke must be treated seriously. Because it's no laughing matter. Because you can't be too careful. Because any imagined threat, however patently absurd, must be ritually investigated.
And the person making the joke must bear the responsibility for the time-consuming and costly process of investigation, even though the possibility of such an investigation never crossed his mind, just to drive the message home that You Cannot Make Jokes About Terrorism.So I imagine Al-Qaeda are toasting the name of Judge Jacqueline Davies in the Tribal Areas tonight. She has handed them a significant victory.
We also need to ask why the Crown Prosecution Service insisted on bringing this case, apparently against the wishes of the police. Though the fact that it wastes time and public money in this was does give a clue as to why it was unable to bring any charges in the case of Ian Tomlinson.
Today has also seen the arrest of Gareth Compton, a Conservative councillor from Birmingham, for (again on Twitter) calling for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to be stoned to death. I have been known to say harsh things about certain columnists myself, but I have to say I find that a bit extreme.
Unless, of course, you think it was a joke.
I suppose you could argue there was a tinge of racism in associating Alibhai-Brown's name with stoning. But it is hard to resist the view that the West Midlands Police must have many more important things to do than trawl Twitter for off-colour jokes.
And the sooner the Coalition's Freedom Bill appears the better. These are the sort of cases that can unite in opposition both lefty Liberal Democrats and Daily Mail reading Tories.