Health minister hires top libel lawyer for legal move against music legend
Mr Swann has hired the hot-shot libel lawyer Paul Tweed, who has represented the likes of Harrison Ford, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez and Arlene Foster, as he prepares to take Sir Van to court over the scandalous comments he made earlier this year.
A writ was served on the 76-year-old musician in June. A statement of claim detailing the case against him was then issued by Mr Swann’s lawyers in September, with Sir Van’s legal team sending a statement of their defence against the claims late last month.
Preparations are being made for a High Court showdown in February unless the matter is resolved before then.
Mr Swann’s solicitor Paul Tweed said: “Proceedings have been issued and are ongoing against Van Morrison. We are aiming for a trial in February.”
A spokesman for Mr Swann said he was unable to comment on the matter because of ongoing legal proceedings.
His legal team claims Sir Van’s outbursts amount to accusations he misused his office and endangered the public.
They say Morrison’s public accusations harmed his reputation by implying he was unfit for office and suggesting he had misrepresented the facts about the pandemic.
The case centres around three incidents in which the Ulster Unionist MLA’s lawyers say he was defamed by the east Belfast singer-songwriter.
First, Sir Van spoke about the health minister during a gig at Belfast’s Europa Hotel in June after several of his upcoming gigs were cancelled because of lockdown.
The singer attempted to lead the audience in chants of “Robin Swann is very dangerous” and called Ian Paisley to join him stage.
Video footage of Sir Van and the MP went viral and caused political outcry.
UUP leader Doug Beattie described the comments as “vile”.
Mr Beattie added that his party colleague had worked tirelessly during the pandemic to save lives, so it was appalling to see him denigrated.
Mr Paisley later rang Mr Swann to apologise for his behaviour and said he did not believe the health minister was dangerous.
The second alleged instance of defamation occurred in the days following the Europa Hotel gig, when Sir Van was approached by Sunday Life about his comments.
Speaking to our reporter at the Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast, he said: “No, no I don’t regret it [saying Mr Swann was dangerous]. Of course he’s dangerous.
“He’s a fraud, I believe he’s a fraud. Why should I regret it?
“He called me dangerous and I’m calling him dangerous.”
His comments were a reference to an interview Mr Swann gave to Rolling Stone magazine in which he criticised the lockdown opponent.
Sir Van went on to make clear that he did not wish to take part in an interview. He launched into a foul-mouthed tirade against our reporter, snapping “f*** off” and saying: “I can’t hear you with a mask on, you f****** idiot.”
He also repeatedly declined to answer when our reporter asked him if he believed Covid, which has killed millions of people around the world, was real.
The third alleged defamation centres around content uploaded to Sir Van’s YouTube channel.
This includes a video titled ‘For Clarity’ that was published days after he was confronted by this newspaper.
In it, the singer again takes aim at the health minister and repeats his claim that Mr Swann is “dangerous”.
He says he wants to explain his comments about Mr Swann, who he incorrectly calls “Robert Swann”.
Sir Van then explains that he recorded a number of anti-lockdown songs that were directed against Westminster.
“I’m a UK citizen. I live in the UK, work in the UK and pay my taxes in the UK,” he says, stressing that the songs were not aimed at the Executive.
He adds that after the release of these songs, Mr Swann “decided he wanted to get mixed up in my business” — another reference to the Rolling Stone article.
He claims to have contacted the health minister “over a year ago” to ask for evidence of why live music was banned during the pandemic but says he has yet to receive a response.
The Brown Eyed Girl singer says he will not “lie down and accept” not being able to do his job before saying he was “sure there will be more” videos from him on the matter.
Should the veteran musician lose the case at the High Court, he could face a huge legal bill and damages stretching into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Mr Swann’s lawyer Paul Tweed has represented scores of high-profile clients over the years in cases.
He acted for former First Minister Arlene Foster in her recent case against celebrity doctor Christian Jessen. The TV personality was ordered by a Belfast court to pay £125,000 in damages over a defamatory tweet he made about Mrs Foster in December 2019.