Christian Jessen ordered to travel to Belfast to face cross-examination by Arlene Foster’s QC over false affair claims
A celebrity doctor sued by First Minister Arlene Foster over a false tweet about an extra-marital affair was unaware the case had reached hearing, the High Court was told today.
Television presenter Christian Jessen claims he never received legal documents or trial dates for the libel action.
He was ordered to travel to Belfast later this week to testify and face cross-examination by counsel by Mrs Foster, who described his assertions as “beyond parody”.
The last-minute development is set to delay judgment on the level of payout to award the Democratic Unionist Party leader.
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.
“I see no other method in which that can be properly explored other than for him to give evidence live in this court in relation to these issues.”
Defamation proceedings were brought against Dr Jessen following categorically untrue social media allegations Mrs Foster had an affair with a close protection police officer.
The Harley Street medic, best known for presenting Channel 4 shows Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize v Superskinny, posted a tweet on December 23, 2019, the court heard last week.
The online comment was only removed two weeks after, having received 3,500 likes and was retweeted more than 500 times.
In her evidence 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.”
With no defence entered in the lawsuit, Mrs Foster has already secured judgment in default.
Mr Justice McAlinden was due to rule tomorrow (WEDNESDAY) on the amount of damages after hearing 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.”
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