Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

False Arlene Foster claims spread by rival unionists, say DUP sources

Action: Arlene Foster
Action: Arlene Foster
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

Cruel, unfounded rumours about DUP leader Arlene Foster were first spread by rival unionists in her home county of Fermanagh, Sunday Life can reveal.

The claims — repeated on Twitter by celebrity doctor Christian Jessen and which are now the subject of libel action — were, according to DUP figures, then seized upon and shared widely by Sinn Fein supporters.

Lawyers acting for Mrs Foster have identified several individuals who she now intends suing, with legal sources predicting a six-figure payout.

TV presenter Dr Jessen is among this group with an email warning of impending High Court action being sent to an online work address that he uses.

A second Co Armagh doctor who retweeted his allegations about Mrs Foster is also being put on notice.

As of going to print last night, Dr Jessen’s social media post was still viewable on the television presenter’s Twitter feed that has 320,000 followers.

For almost a week he has ignored warnings from media lawyer Paul Tweed (right), who is acting for Mrs Foster, about its content.

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Solicitor John McBurney, who has previously acted for former DUP leaders Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, is also representing Mrs Foster.

Dr Jessen’s controversial tweet, which has been retweeted almost 500 times, was posted on the social media platform last Monday.

Mr Tweed, whose clients include film stars Tom Cruise and Liam Neeson, responded by saying: “I am putting Dr Christian Jessen on notice in relation to a totally false allegation he has tweeted regarding DUP leader and former First Minister Arlene Foster.” In a follow-up statement, he added: “I would confirm, if necessary, legal proceedings will be taken against Dr Christian Jessen, Twitter and any persons who have recklessly retweeted this false and highly defamatory allegation.”

Senior DUP sources last night branded the unfounded social media reports about Mrs Foster as “nasty lies”.

They also expressed a strong belief that the rumours originated in Fermanagh, where the politician is from, and were deliberately spread by rival unionists during the summer.

The unfounded reports gained traction after the general election earlier this month, with the DUP accusing republicans of sharing them widely on social media.

Contrary to online claims, Sunday Life can also confirm there is no court order or injunction banning the media from reporting on them.

The reason why they have not appeared in print, or been broadcast, is because there is zero evidence to suggest they are true.

Dr Jessen, who is at the centre of the Arlene Foster libel storm, is best known for presenting Channel 4 programmes Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize vs Superskinny.

The DUP leader’s legal action against him is not the first time a politician has sued a celebrity over a Twitter post. In 2013 Tory peer Lord McAlpine won a libel case against Sally Bercow — the reality TV contestant wife of then Commons speaker John Bercow — over comments she made falsely linking him to child abuse allegations.

Ms Foster has previously complained about the abuse she receives online, saying it has put her off social media.

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