'Last chance saloon' for TV doctor over Foster tweet

Celebrity doctor Christian Jessen is in the "last chance saloon" in his bid to defend a libel action over false rumours First Minister Arlene Foster was having an extra-marital affair, a High Court Judge has warned.

Mrs Foster is suing the TV medic for a tweet making completely unfounded allegations of infidelity.

Even though the Democratic Unionist Party leader has already secured judgment in her favour, Dr Jessen claims he never received legal papers sent to his London address and was unaware the case had reached hearing.

Under cross-examination last week, he told the court that he shut out all news over the last year and moved back to his parents home because of the pandemic and his deteriorating mental health.

At a review hearing on Tuesday, Mr Justice McAlinden confirmed he will make a preliminary ruling on whether Dr Jessen is telling the truth about the service of documents.

"This is an important aspect of the case, this is the last chance saloon for Dr Jessen," he said.

"If it's a case where he loses his opportunity to belatedly defend this action on the credibility point then I think it's important that all opportunities are given to him and his representatives to make points in his favour.

"That's the reason why I'm adopting this particular approach."

With both sides confirming they do not intend to call any further evidence, the judge listed a hearing next month for submissions on the reliability of Dr Jessen's account.

The Harley Street medic, best known for presenting Channel 4 shows Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize v Superskinny, is being sued over a tweet on 23 December, 2019.

It involved untrue claims about Mrs Foster. The First Minister has told how she was left humiliated by the false rumour which came 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.

A ruling on the scale of damages to award Mrs Foster was put on hold after Dr Jessen was ordered to travel to Belfast to give evidence in person.

Defamation proceedings centre on the contents of a tweet on his account with more than 300,000 followers.

Questioned by counsel for Mrs Foster, he said that he believed the rumours were true, based on "hundreds" of other tweets and online websites.

Dr Jessen told the court that his motivation was possible hypocrisy.

"Given the extent of the rumours, and given the DUP's stance on things like equal marriage and abortion, I felt strongly that if there was a possibility these were true this is a public figure who is answerable to her public," he said in his evidence last week.

"If there was any truth in these that sort of hypocrisy needs to be pointed out and accounted for."

He also stated how he believed all court proceedings had been stalled due to the pandemic and lockdowns.

Claiming not to have followed news events over the past year, the medic explained: "I have watched Netflix, but not current affairs."

He cited medical reasons which forced him to take time off work for the decision to shut out news coverage.

In court Mr Justice McAlinden explained that the next stage in the case will deal with the issue of service of legal papers.

"If I'm satisfied that I consider Dr Jessen is being untruthful in relation to receipt of legal documentation I need consider no further matter in relation to the application for leave to enter a late appearance (by his lawyers)," he said.

"If I consider that he did not receive the documentation, or he's being honest when he said he did not receive the documentation, further consideration needs to be given to whether a conditional appearance should be permitted at that stage."

Adjourning until 14 May, the judge stressed: "I need to ensure the most cost efficient method of disposing of these issues."

  • Video report by Paul Reilly: