High Court told Matt Hancock libelled Andrew Bridgen to ‘devastating extent’

Matt Hancock libelled Andrew Bridgen to ‘devastating extent’, High Court told
Matt Hancock (l), Andrew Bridgen (r) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock libelled parliamentary candidate Andrew Bridgen to a “devastating extent” by accusing him of antisemitism on social media, the High Court has been told.

The former North West Leicestershire MP is bringing a libel case against Mr Hancock over a post on X, formerly Twitter, last year, after Mr Bridgen posted a comment about Covid-19 vaccines.

The High Court in London previously heard that on January 11th 2023, Mr Bridgen shared a link to an article “concerning data about deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Covid vaccines”, and stated: “As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.”

Hours later, Mr Hancock shared a video of him asking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a question in the House of Commons, with the caption: “The disgusting and dangerous antisemitic, anti-vax, anti-scientific conspiracy theories spouted by a sitting MP this morning are unacceptable and have absolutely no place in our society.”

At a hearing today (12th June), Mrs Justice Collins Rice was asked to decide several preliminary issues in the case, including the “natural and ordinary” meaning of Mr Hancock’s post and whether it was a statement of fact or opinion.

Christopher Newman, representing Mr Bridgen, said the nature of the allegations reduced the standing of his client in the eyes of the public to a “devastating extent”.

He said: “We say that the gravity of what was said, even on the defendant’s meaning, was very serious indeed.

“A libel about antisemitism is a particularly serious libel.”

He continued: “We live in a society where racism is not just undesirable, it is legislated to be illegal… and antisemitism as a very specific form of racism, just as bad as any other form of racism.”

He added: “If somebody says you are antisemitic, everyone knows what that means. It is just very, very damaging.”

Matt Hancock was named in the report alongside Jeremy Hunt. Credit: PA

Mr Newman said the post meant Mr Bridgen “is an antisemite”, while lawyers for Mr Hancock told the court it meant Mr Bridgen had “disseminated views that were antisemitic in nature”.

Mr Bridgen previously told the court that “every person reading the tweet knew it was about me”, that it was “seriously defamatory and untrue” and intended to cause “grievous harm” to his reputation.

He also said he wished to “clear his name” after the “malicious” post.

Mr Hancock has previously called the case “absurd” and labelled Mr Bridgen’s claims “ridiculous”.

In written submissions, Aidan Eardley KC for Mr Hancock, said that only someone “avid for scandal” would believe the post concerned Mr Bridgen’s “general character or belief system”.

He said: “The claimant contends that the statement impugns his character or belief system, ‘an antisemite’, whereas the defendant contends that it concerns only the qualities of what he has said, ‘disseminated views that were antisemitic in nature’.”

He continued: “The political context of the statement is highly significant. The reasonable reader will have appreciated that it was one MP criticising a statement made by another MP on a matter of political controversy.

“They will have been attuned to expect highly vociferous expressions of opinion in this context. They will not have regarded the statement as a source of true, factual information about the claimant.”

Mrs Justice Collins Rice will hand down her judgment in writing at a later date.