Foster awarded £125k after Dr. Jessen’s defamatory tweet

TV host Dr. Christian Jessen had falsely claimed Foster was engaged in an affair.

The High Court in Belfast has ordered Dr. Christian Jessen to pay £125,000 to Arlene Foster and cover the legal costs of both parties in a defamation case taken by the former DUP leader.

In December 2019, Dr. Jessen falsely told his 300,000 Twitter followers that Foster was having an affair with a policeman assigned to protect her, a statement the then first minister says “trashed” her marriage and “cut to the very core”.

Delivering judgement this morning, Mr Justice McAlinden said it was “grossly defamatory” and a “most serious libel” to state that “a woman married for 25-and-a-half years and a mother of three children, who is a committed Christian and who is recognised as such, and who has publicly made statements extolling the importance and sanctity of marriage, who also happens to be the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and a holder of the office of first minister of Northern Ireland, was an adulterer, a hypocrite and a homophobe…”

“It is an outrageous libel concerning an individual of considerable standing, attacking her integrity at the most fundamental level, and it involves the trashing in a very public fashion of the relationship that Mrs Foster holds dearest in her life,” Mr. Justice McAlinden insisted.

“It affected core aspects of her life, namely her relationship with her husband, her deep Christian faith, it called into question her fitness and suitability to occupy the office of first minister at a time when delicate negotiations were continuing on the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“In short, I consider that it was an outrageously bad libel.”

Mr Justice McAlinden continued: “The offending tweet remained on the defendant’s Twitter account for two weeks, a Twitter account with 311,000 followers.

“The tweet was liked approximately 3,500 times and it was retweeted 517 times. The fact that the defendant failed to take down the offending tweet was the subject of mainstream media coverage.

“This outrageously bad libel cut her (Ms Foster) to the core, causing her considerable upset, distress, humiliation, embarrassment and hurt.

“Bearing in mind the time of year and the work-related pressures the plaintiff was under at that time, I fully accept this libel took a heavy emotional toll despite her experience of dealing with the heat of robust political debate.”

“Her marriage, her family life and her faith are the most important things in her life. These things provide important pillars of support and it was these things that were publicly trashed.”

The rumours, Foster previously told the court, had led to an “upsetting” conversation with her husband.

“It was very humiliating to see that the relationship that’s most important to me had been trashed if you like and put out there in the public domain in that fashion,” she said at an April sitting.

“One of the things that gives me stability is my home relationship – it was almost as if this cut to the very core of my life.”

The medic had tweeted “LOL (laugh out loud)” on Christmas Day after he was served with notice of the proceedings, telling followers the next day that “”People are now comparing me to Barbra Streisand – this gay boy’s life cannot get any better!!!!.”

Referencing Jessen’s reaction to the case, Mr Justice McAliden said aggravating features include “the tardy response to the letter of claim, the woefully inadequate and deliberately misleading response, the failure to respond to any subsequent response, the failure to publish any form of apology or retraction and his failure to make any offer of compensation, which has resulted in the plaintiff being required to give evidence.”

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