High Court rules Joey Barton’s posts about Jeremy Vine are defamatory

Image: Jeremy Vine; BBC

More than just “mere vulgar abuse”

A High Court judge has ruled that comments made by former footballer Joey Barton about BBC TV and radio presenter Jeremy Vine on social media were defamatory.

The BBC reports that Barton was sued by Jeremy Vine for libel and harassment over 14 posts on on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mrs Justice Steyn ruled on Friday (24 May) that 11 of the posts could defame Mr Vine, who lives in Chiswick and posts regularly about his commute into Broadcasting House by bike.

The former Premier League footballer turned manager Mr Barton, 41, had called Mr Vine, 59, a “bike nonce” and “pedo defender”, which she said gave the “strong impression” that the term was being used in its “primary meaning to allege the claimant has a sexual interest in children”.

The footballer’s lawyer, William McCormick KC, contended his client’s posts constituted “mere vulgar abuse”, conveying no defamatory meaning. He argued they had been posted in the heat of the moment and that calling him a “bike nonce” was an “obvious attempt at humorous abuse of Mr Vine”.

Mrs Justice Steyn said:

“While I do not consider that the hypothetical reader, who would read the post quickly and move on, would infer a causative link, ie. that the claimant defends paedophiles because he shares the same propensity, the juxtaposition of the words ‘nonce’ and ‘pedo’ is striking and would reinforce the impression that the former was used in the sense of ‘paedophile’.”

She said a reader would have understood the word “bike” to be a “meaningless aspect of the accusation”, used only as an indication that this was a label attached to Mr Vine, who was known as a cyclist, “without detracting from the operative word ‘nonce’.”

Mr Vine’s barrister, Gervase de Wilde, told the court earlier this month that the abuse began after Mr Vine responded to one post in which Mr Barton compared football pundits Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward to serial killers Fred and Rose West.

The broadcaster asked whether Mr Barton, who was manager of Bristol Rovers until October last year, had a brain injury.

The court heard that since late-2023, Mr Barton began a series of posts criticising women involved in football and football punditry.

Mr Barton – who appeared for clubs including Manchester City, Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers during his playing career – then published several posts about Mr Vine over the following days to his 2.8 million followers on X at the beginning of January.

Mr de Wilde told the court that the term was trending on the platform, described the former footballer’s actions as a “calculated and sustained attack on Mr Vine”, and that the posts had “clear references to (Mr Vine) having a sexual interest in children”.

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