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"Grossly offensive" tweet conviction overturned

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A man who was given a five-year restraining order and community service for referring to a councillor using a curse word in a tweet had his conviction overturned Friday.

Last October, John Kerlen tweeted a photo of a home which apparently belonged to Melvin Seymour, a councillor in the London suburb of Bexley. The caption read: “Which c--- lives in a house like this.” Kerlen, who tweets under the pseudonym Olly Cromwell, was convicted in April over sending “grossly offensive” and “menacing” communications.

Following the appeal hearing Friday, Kerlen shared the results on Twitter:

Hello. Twitter. Unfortunately.... Those who think I'm a criminal c---.... Are wrong. I'm just a c---. I FUCKING WON!!!! No costs awarded though.”

The case really hinged on the perception of the four-letter word in question, and whether it can be deemed “grossly offensive.” Essentially, the judge in the appeal hearing ruled that the word “may be offensive but is not grossly offensive,” according to Kerlen. The judge also called his language “uncivilized” but claimed that the tweets were not menacing in any way.

While his conviction has been quashed, it appears that a restraining order is still in place (issued last December at a pre-trial hearing). Kerlen, an activist blogger who’s had plenty of issues with Bexley Council, added that while he has the right to appeal the decision over costs, he does not plan to do so as that would be “hypocritical.”

The case is the second recent toppling of a conviction stemming from a tweeted threat. Last month, Paul Chambers had his conviction for sending a menacing communication overturned in what has been widely dubbed the Twitter Joke Trial. He planned to fly in January 2010 to see his girlfriend when he found out the airport was closed due to snow. He tweeted: "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!!"

In a back-and-forth on Twitter, Kerlen thanked Chambers for his support, in typically exuberant fashion.

Photo by @sir_olly_c/Twitter