TV doctor 'created persona' during time he failed to respond to libel case papers

TV presenter Dr Christian Jessen has told a court that he created a "persona" in a series of podcasts he produced during lockdown, at a time when he had not responded to legal papers in a libel case brought by Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster.

Mrs Foster is suing celebrity medic Dr Jessen for defamation over a tweet he posted making an unfounded claim that she was having an extra-marital affair.

On 23 December 2019, he published the allegation to his 300,000-plus followers. The tweet remained online until Dr Jessen deleted it on 7 January 2020.

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

In the High Court in Belfast on Friday, Mr Justice McAlinden questioned Dr Jessen on a series of podcasts he had created at the time when he had failed to respond to the legal papers.

Mr Justice McAlinden asked him how the content of the podcasts was consistent with his argument that at the time he was suffering from mental health issues and living in his parents' home, and was not engaging with the news.

Dr Jessen said: "One of the pernicious aspects of depression is how one can hide it."

Referring to the podcasts, Dr Jessen said: "I have been creating a persona to sell a message."

The doctor, best known for appearing in the Channel 4 show Embarrassing Bodies, first engaged with the legal proceedings after Mrs Foster had already given evidence to the court.

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

During his first appearance in the witness box last month, the doctor was pressed repeatedly on his claims that he had not received certain legal papers.

Offering an explanation, the doctor said he was suffering from mental health problems at the outset of 2020 and had stopped working and left his flat in London and moved home to his parents'.

Giving evidence last month, Mrs Foster said she felt "humiliated" after the celebrity doctor tweeted the unsubstantiated rumour of an extra-marital affair.

Mrs Foster told the court the incident came at a particularly stressful time when she was involved in talks to resurrect the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

She said she felt the rumour of the affair with a close protection officer, which she described as having emerged online from anonymous accounts before the tweet by Dr Jessen, was designed to destabilise her at a critical time.

"I think the attack on me personally and my marriage was meant to destabilise me at a very critical time," she told the court.