‘Celebrity doctor’ sued by First Minister ordered to testify in Belfast

Dr Christian Jessen is known for presenting a number of television programmes. Credit: PA

Television presenter Dr Christian Jessen has been ordered to travel to Belfast to testify about claims he never received legal documents or trial dates for libel action taken by First Minister Arlene Foster.

The Harley Street medic is being sued over a false tweet about an extra-marital affair, but claims he was unaware the case had reached hearing, the High Court was told on Tuesday.

He will now have to testify and face cross-examination by counsel for Mrs Foster - who described his assertions as “beyond parody” - later this week.

The DUP leader secured judgment in default as no defence was entered in the lawsuit, but the last-minute development is set to delay judgment on the level of pay-out to award.

Mr Justice McAlinden told Dr Jessen’s barrister: “If he’s saying that he didn’t get any of that material and was only aware of the assessment of damages hearing in this case when friends contacted him to ascertain how he was, having regard to press coverage - if all that is being asserted as being true by your client, then I’m afraid it is the case his credibility will be significantly under scrutiny.”

Defamation proceedings were brought against Dr Jessen following categorically untrue social media allegations Mrs Foster had an affair with a close protection police officer.

Last week, the court heard that the medic - best known for presenting Channel 4 shows Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize v Superskinny - posted a tweet online on 23 December 2019.

The comment was only removed two weeks later, having received 3,500 likes and having been retweeted more than 500 times.

In her evidence to the court, Mrs Foster said she was left humiliated by the unfounded rumour which “trashed” her 25-year marriage.

She described how the false claims inflicted deep hurt at a time when she was involved in talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The distress caused to her family was compounded by the posting being made two days before Christmas.

She said: “It was almost as if this cut to the very core of my life.”

First Minister Arlene Foster has testified about the distress caused by the false claims. Credit: PA

Mr Justice McAlinden was due to rule on Wednesday on the amount of damages to be awarded after having heard the First Minister’s testimony.

But newly-instructed lawyers for Dr Jessen lodged an urgent application for permission to make the case that he never received documents or dates for earlier stages in the proceedings.

Setting out his client’s position, Gavin Millar QC said: “He didn’t have notice in the sense of actual knowledge of either the entering of default judgment or the assessment of damages hearing.”

Asked if his client had checked his accommodation in London for papers sent there, Mr Millar replied: “As far as I understand it, he hasn’t found a trial bundle in the apartment.”

However, David Ringland QC, for Mrs Foster, claimed there could be no doubt that all of the information is in Dr Jessen’s London flat.

“If the court believes for one moment that this man for 12 months has lived elsewhere, not had a forwarding address and didn’t tell his concierge service, all of (that) is beyond parody,” he added.

Putting his judgment on hold, Mr Justice McAlinden adjourned until Friday when the defendant will attend court to give evidence in person.

He told the parties: “I have to deal with this issue before delivering judgment in this case.”