The celebrity doctor being sued by Northern Ireland’s first minister over false rumours of an extra-marital affair has told a court he is suffering from "quite serious mental health problems".
Lawyers for Arlene Foster commenced defamation proceedings against Dr Christian Jessen after he tweeted unfounded claims the married mother-of-three was engaged in a relationship with a close protection officer.
Dr Jessen, who presents the Embarrassing Bodies programme, said he had not read or watched news for 12 months because he was suffering from "really quite serious mental health problems" and knew nothing of the court hearing.
The judge, Mr Justice McAliden, disputed that on the basis that Dr Jessen had tweeted articles from The Sunday Times and the BBC and had questioned the government’s COVID measures.
Under cross-examination, he told the court he "honesty believed the rumours were true" because there was "extensive online comment".
He continued: "Given the extent of the rumours and given the DUP‘s stance on issues like equal marriage and abortion, I felt strongly that if there was a possibility that these were true, that hypocrisy needed to be pointed out and accounted for."
Last week, the first minister told the same court that the false rumours, which began circulating online at Christmas 2019, were "very distressing" and "humiliating".
She said she was "very upset" at having to tell her husband and their children that "the relationship that’s most important to me had been trashed and put out there in the public domain in this fashion".
Mrs Foster, who was engaged in efforts to restore power-sharing when the unfounded claims went viral, described it as "an attack on me personally and my marriage, meant to destabilise me at a very critical time".
Dr Jessen said he had given up his job due to his illness but lawyers for Mrs Foster strongly disputed his claim that he had not received letters and documents related to the legal action.
The judge had been due to deliver his verdict on Wednesday but postponed following a last-minute intervention by lawyers for the defendant, who flew to Belfast for cross-examination.
Asked if he understood "how shatteringly damaging" his tweet "based on possibility" was for a happily married woman, Dr Jessen replied: "Very unpleasant. I would not wish to cause her any distress."