Northern Ireland news

Bimpe Archer: Online viewing figures for celebrity doctor Christian Jessen in court peaked at 35

Dr Christian Jessen appeared at Belfast High Court to testify and face cross-examination in a libel case taken against him by Arlene Foster. Picture by Hugh Russell

ONLINE viewing figures for celebrity doctor Christian Jessen peaked at 35 - a long way from the three and a half million viewers who regularly tuned in to watch him on `Embarrassing Bodies', the TV show that made him famous.

However, for a Belfast High Court hearing to determine whether legal documents could be deemed to have been served in a libel case, it was approaching record numbers.

The 44-year-old had flown in from London for the hearing having, he claims being previously unaware that Arlene Foster's libel case against him had reached a courtroom.

That assertion was met with ferocious derision by Mrs Foster's barrister David Ringland QC, who spent more than three hours cross-examining him on the alleged failure of a series of documents delivered variously by email, first class post and process server to find their way into his hand.

The grainy images beamed to the few dozen laptops from Queen's Bench 2 showed a more muted Dr Jessen than the images familiar from his TV heyday, even his trademark golden hair appearing less burnished as he sat quietly at the back of an almost empty court in a well-cut blue suit, with a white shirt, purple tie and matching pocket hankie.

Called to the witness box, he sought to explain the apparently inexplicable to the satisfaction of Mr Justice Gerry McAlinden who had warned his barrister "his credibility will be significantly under scrutiny".

He fielded the questions fired at him by Mr Ringland, just out of shot on the `courtcam', with calm and well-modulated responses that delivered an account of dark mental health struggles which he says had led him to give up lucrative work at a private London clinic and move back in with his parents due to an acute year-long period of mental ill health.

Part of his oblivion to the court proceedings he said had been caused by his need to stop watching TV news current affairs or reading newspapers because of his ill health which felt for much of the past year "like being under water" with gaps in his memory.

"I find it very triggering," he told the court.

Mr Ringland appeared baffled that this included the highly publicised libel trial of Johnny Depp at which his ex-wife Amber Heard gave evidence, pressing the question more than once.

Dr Jesson said his engagement on Twitter - the source of this libel action - has also reduced.

The sexual health specialist said he had regarded the social media site as "light and frothy" and he wanted messages there to be "amusing and pithy", but that shortly after sending the Tweet at the centre of the case on Christmas Day, he was still engaging on the site - to the "disgust of my family".

"Twitter is fairly addictive. I suppose when you go so far into it it keeps you going back to have a quick look," he told the court.

He claimed not to have believed Paul Tweed's warning on Twitter that he and those retweeting the claims would face legal action as "impossible and not something a lawyer would do in my limited experience", claiming he had not realised he was a solicitor and not "another troll" among the "hundreds of messages" he had received relating to the Tweet.

Dr Jessen was composed as he recounted how by the time he sent the tweet about Mrs Foster he had already "agreed to leave" his job at the clinic, although he continued to see patients until January 10 2020 - the wisdom of which was queried by the judge in "such a parolous state".

"No one wants to say that you're too ill to work, especially at my age, at 40. That's a devastating thing," he replied simply.

Now working "very thankfully with the NHS as a clinical supervisor of vaccines", Dr Jessen told the court he has only returned in the last few days to the luxury apartment bloc Walpole House on London's South Bank.

Despite having "turned the place upside down", he insisted he had found only two of the disputed documents, one sent from legal firm Gateley Tweed sent on February 2 "by second class stamp".

Mr Ringland was scathing to the last of "this completely untruthful case that you've been making", warning him at one point "don't try and feign any confusion there, don't try and be clever", saying his account was "redolent with lies caught out overtly on a number of occasions".

Dr Christian Jessen appears at Belfast High Court to testify and face cross-examination in a libel case taken against him by Arlene Foster.Picture by Hugh Russell.

First Minister Arlene Foster during a press conference at Colebrooke, Co Fermanagh. DUP leader Mrs Foster called for the police chief to quit following a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute those who attended the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey. Picture date: Tuesday March 30, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story ULSTER Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Rebecca Black/PA Wire.

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