‘Last year or so has been very difficult for me as I have struggled with some serious mental health problems and knowing I have your support is hugely encouraging and affirming,’ TV doctor writes
TV presenter Dr Christian Jessen has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help him pay damages of £125,000 to Arlene Foster for posting a defamatory tweet which made unfounded claims about an extramarital affair.
The former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) sued Dr Jessen, best known for appearing in the Channel 4 show Embarrassing Bodies, after the tweet on 23 December 2019 in which he made a false allegation of an affair to his 300,000-plus followers. The tweet remained online until Dr Jessen deleted it on 7 January 2020.
Dr Jessen was ordered to pay damages of £125,000 as well as Ms Foster’s legal costs.
Launching his GoFundMe page on Friday, Dr Jessen wrote on Twitter: “I’m very grateful for your messages of support and encouragement following the recent news.
“Would you please retweet and support me via my GoFundMe page? I have put more details there and I’ll keep you updated. Big hugs C x.”
By Saturday morning, he had raised £2,627 raised of his £150,000 goal. He said any money raised above that sum would be donated to charities linked with issues he has previously campaigned on, including LGBT+ rights and HIV education and testing.
In a summary on his GoFundMe page, he wrote: “The last year or so has been very difficult for me as I have struggled with some serious mental health problems and knowing I have your support is hugely encouraging and affirming. I’m very grateful.”
Delivering his judgment at the High Court in Belfast on Thursday, Mr Justice McAlinden said the tweet had caused Ms Foster “humiliation, embarrassment and hurt.”
He added: “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 Ms Foster holds dearest in her life.
“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.”
The judge also addressed the fact that Dr Jessen failed to respond to warnings from Ms Foster’s lawyer about the tweet.
He continued: “The offending tweet remained on the defendant’s Twitter account for two weeks, a Twitter account with 311,000 followers.
”This outrageously bad libel cut her [Ms Foster] to the core, causing her considerable upset, distress, humiliation, embarrassment and hurt.
“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.”
Ms Foster’s lawyer welcomed the judgment, stating that he believed it was a “watershed” moment for women in public life who have been attacked on social media.