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Dr Christian Jessen ordered to pay £125,000 to Arlene Foster for defamatory tweet

First Minister of Northern Ireland and outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster had sued the celebrity medic for defamation.

Updated May 27th 2021, 1:28 PM

boris-johnson-meets-arlene-foster Source: PA

TV PRESENTER DR Christian Jessen has been ordered to pay damages of £125,000 to Arlene Foster for posting an “outrageous” defamatory tweet which made an unfounded claim.

Delivering judgment in the case at the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice McAlinden accepted that the false tweet by the celebrity doctor had cut Foster “to the core”.

Giving evidence last month, Foster said she felt “humiliated” after the celebrity doctor tweeted the unsubstantiated rumour of an extra-marital affair with a close protection officer.

Foster sued the celebrity medic, best known for appearing in the Channel 4 show Embarrassing Bodies, for defamation for the tweet he posted on 23 December 2019, making the false allegation to his 300,000-plus followers.

The tweet remained online until Dr Jessen deleted it on 7 January 2020.

Delivering judgment, Mr Justice McAlinden said:

It is an outrageous libel concerning an individual of considerable standing, attacking her integrity at the most fundamental level.

“It affected core aspects of her life… it called into question her fitness and suitability to occupy the office of First Minister at a time when delicate negotiations were continuing on the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“In short, I consider that it was an outrageously bad libel.”

christian-jessen-court-case Dr Christian Jessen. Source: PA

Mr Justice McAlinden continued: “The offending tweet remained on the defendant’s Twitter account for two weeks, a Twitter account with 311,000 followers.

“The tweet was liked approximately 3,500 times and it was retweeted 517 times. The fact that the defendant failed to take down the offending tweet was the subject of mainstream media coverage.

Mr Justice McAlinden ordered Dr Jessen to pay damages of £125,000 and Mrs Foster’s legal costs.

The judge referred to evidence given by Arlene Foster suggesting the timing of the tweet may have been deliberately chosen to undermine negotiations concerning the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Giving evidence last month, Foster told the court the incident came at a particularly stressful time when she was involved in talks to resurrect the powersharing government in the region.

“This outrageously bad libel cut her [Foster] to the core, causing her considerable upset, distress, humiliation, embarrassment and hurt.

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“Bearing in mind the time of year and the work-related pressures the plaintiff was under at that time, I fully accept this libel took a heavy emotional toll despite her experience of dealing with the heat of robust political debate.

He said: “I do not ascribe to the defendant the knowledge of, or interest in Northern Ireland politics which would be a prerequisite to giving any detailed consideration to the possibility that the timing of this tweet was intended to influence the outcome of the negotiations.

“However, in respect of the anonymous tweets which preceded the defendant’s much more prominent statement, such a motivation cannot be dismissed out of hand.”

Mr Justice McAliden continued: “Further aggravating features include the tardy response to the letter of claim, the woefully inadequate and deliberately misleading response, the failure to respond to any subsequent respondence, the failure to publish any form of apology or retraction and his failure to make any offer of compensation, which has resulted in the plaintiff being required to give evidence.”

A key issue in the case was the TV doctor’s repeated failure to engage in the legal process and respond to papers served on him by Mrs Foster’s representatives.

Dr Jessen first engaged with the legal proceedings Mrs Foster had already given evidence to the court.

He claimed he had been previously unaware the case at Belfast High Court was happening.

Dr Jessen previously told the court that he had moved out of his London city centre flat at the time and into his parents’ home as he was suffering from mental health issues and had not been watching the news.

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