DUP leader Arlene Foster tells court claims of affair with protection officer 'very distressing'

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Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has told a court that unfounded allegations of an extramarital affair with a close protection officer, tweeted by a celebrity doctor, were "very distressing" for her and her family.

The claims were shared on Twitter by Dr Christian Jessen, best known as presenter of the TV programme Embarrassing Bodies.

A lawyer for Mrs Foster told the High Court in Belfast that Dr Jessen had "significantly aggravated the libel" by posting three further tweets, despite having been placed on notice of legal action.

Mrs Foster said the allegation "that I was having an adulterous relationship with one of my close protection officers" was false.

She said she was "very, very upset" having to explain to Brian, her husband of 25 years, that "the relationship that's most important to me had been trashed and put out there in the public domain in that fashion".

The first minister, who has three children aged 22, 19 and 14, explained how she had to sit the eldest two down to talk about the issue two days before Christmas.

She said: "It was very distressing at the time and yet I had to continue dealing with matters of great importance."

It was December 2019, when Mrs Foster was at the centre of efforts to restore Northern Ireland's devolved government, that the unsubstantiated rumour about her private life began circulating online.

Her lawyer Paul Tweed emphatically rejected it as false and threatened legal action against Dr Jessen and those who had retweeted him.

Mr Tweed tweeted: "I am putting Dr Christian Jessen on notice in relation to a totally false allegation he has tweeted regarding DUP leader and former NI First Minister Arlene Foster.

"Legal action will be also be taken against any persons who have retweeted this highly defamatory allegation."

The first minister has spoken previously about how her children had been left upset by "revolting personal abuse" online.

She told the court: "Female politicians in particular have to deal with a lot of abuse on social media".

She also referred to the tweet as a "targeting of my marriage".

Mrs Foster, a member of the Stormont Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, was elected DUP leader in December 2016 and first minister the following month.

Judgment in the case was reserved until a later date.

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