TV doctor tells court he did not want to cause Arlene Foster ‘distress’

DUP leader takes case after Christian Jessen tweeted unsubstantiated rumour of an extra-marital affair

Television presenter Dr Christian Jessen arrives at Belfast High Court to give evidence in defamation proceedings taken against him by First Minister Arlene Foster. Photograph : Peter Morrison/PA Wire

Television presenter Dr Christian Jessen arrives at Belfast High Court to give evidence in defamation proceedings taken against him by First Minister Arlene Foster. Photograph : Peter Morrison/PA Wire

 

A celebrity doctor has said he did not want to cause Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster “any distress” when he tweeted an unsubstantiated rumour of an extra-marital affair.

Dr Christian Jessen told the High Court in Belfast the allegation would have been “unpleasant” for her. Dr Jessen sent the tweet on December 23rd 2019.

The TV presenter, who appeared in court for the defamation case taken by the DUP leader, said that he posted the tweet based on rumours he read about on social media.

The rumour was based on an allegation she had an affair with a close protection officer.

Dr Jessen, who is best known for the Embarrassing Bodies TV show on Channel 4, then tweeted about the rumours. “There was extensive online comments about this rumour,” Dr Jessen told the court.

“It wasn’t just one or two, there were many hundreds of tweets going back quite some time about this rumour.

“It seems too prolifically talked about to have been conjured from thin air.

“The comments and articles that were around at the time. It was covered in a number of disconnected websites.”

Dr Jessen was questioned about the basis of his tweet by David Ringland QC, acting for Mrs Foster. Mr Ringland asked the celebrity doctor why he tweeted the “disgusting” falsehood about the first minister. The defence accused him of “trashing” Mrs Foster’s reputation.

Dr Jessen told the court he wanted to highlight “possible hypocrisy behind it”, referring to the Democratic Unionist Party’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion.

“What I had presented to me, from the myriad of corners from which I was seeing this same rumour repeated, that I could conclude that (it) was not false,” he added.

“My issue was more the possible hypocrisy behind it.

“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 that these were true, this is a public figure that was answerable to her public.

“If there were any truth to these, that hypocrisy needs to be pointed out and accounted for.

“I’m sure it was very unpleasant for her and I would not wish to cause her any distress.

“I did send a tweet, that is undisputed. I couldn’t determine either way.

“I was interested in making sure that if there was any truth in it, that any hypocrisy was noted.”

In a hearing last week, Mrs Foster said she felt“humiliated” after the tweet which came a particularly stressful time when she was involved in talks to resurrect the powersharing government . “I think the attack on me personally and my marriage was meant to destabilise me at a very critical time,” she told the court. –PA