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Andrew Neil in libel claim against Jennifer Arcuri over ‘paedophile allegations’

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-03-30

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Broadcaster Andrew Neil is bringing a defamation case against US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri over tweets he claims contain allegations he is a “paedophile” and was “complicit in the abuse of children” with Jeffrey Epstein , the High Court has heard.

Mr Neil believes the alleged meaning of the two tweets made by Ms Arcuri in December last year are “gravely defamatory and wholly false” and he denies ever meeting the deceased billionaire, the court was told.

He is seeking damages and a court injunction preventing Ms Arcuri repeating the allegations he claims she made.

Details of the case were revealed in a remote hearing before a judge, Master John Dagnall, on Wednesday, at which neither Mr Neil nor Ms Arcuri appeared.

The judge granted Mr Neil permission to serve his libel claim on Ms Arcuri, who was unrepresented during the proceedings.

The judge concluded that, on the material before him, Mr Neil had a “good arguable case” and that the courts in England and Wales were the “most appropriate forum” for the claim to be brought.

Mr Neil, who has lived in France since April 2017, was permitted to serve his claim “out of the jurisdiction” on Ms Arcuri, lives in Florida.

The judge emphasised that he not decided “at all” any “underlying matter of fact” in the case which is still at “an extremely early stage”.

The court heard that the Mr Neil’s claim was over Ms Arcuri tweeting allegations that his name appeared in a “little black book” of contacts belonging to paedophile financier Epstein.

One tweet contained a photo of Mr Neil standing next to a former girlfriend, the court was told, and one contained reference to British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.

Mr Neil has previously denied meeting Epstein and said he was listed in the deceased businessman’s book because he had met Maxwell in New York in the 1990s.

Epstein was found dead in his cell at a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019 while he awaited trial on sex-trafficking charges, while Maxwell is seeking to challenge her conviction in late December of helping to Epstein sexually abuse teenage girls.

Ben Hamer, representing Mr Neil, said in written arguments that the first of Ms Arcuri’s tweets was retweeted at least 1,034 times and “liked” 2,062 times, while the second tweet was re-tweeted 732 times and liked 2,069 times.

He argued this meant “serious allegations” were made to thousands of individuals giving rise “to a strong inference of serious harm”.

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The judge said Mr Neil alleges that the tweets have an “ordinary meaning, either directly or by a way of innuendo” that he “is a paedophile and was complicit in the abuse of children as part of a paedophile ring with Jeffrey Epstein”.

Mr Hamer noted that Ms Arcuri seemed to have said she did not ascribe that meaning.

According to analysis of Ms Arcuri’s Twitter followers more than half of those providing location information were within the UK, the court heard.

Mr Hamer said in his written arguments that Mr Neil’s lawyers contacted her asking for the tweets to be deleted on a number of occasions.

The first tweet was taken down but not the second, with no response coming to lawyers’ letters nor Mr Neil’s direct tweets to Ms Arcuri seeking her contact details, Mr Hamer said.

On Wednesday, the judge noted the row between the pair came amid a Twitter “debate” over the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.

The judge said he was told Mr Neil, who has a British passport and is a British citizen, was a “well known” TV “personality” with a “considerable reputation” from media activities centred on England and Wales.

He said Ms Arcuri was well known as a businesswoman in London for a number of years, noting she is a director of two companies registered with Companies House, and because of a “asserted relationship of personal and or business matters” with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The judge said that it seemed “real allegations are being made that the tweets and their alleged defamatory meaning were published to substantial numbers of people within this jurisdiction and that substantial numbers of people have had their opinion or will have had their opinion of Mr Neil lowered as a result of the tweets”.

“It seems to me that there is a good arguable case,” the judge said, who added that the alleged meaning of the tweets is “potentially an extremely serious one”.

He said that Ms Arcuri would have the opportunity to seek to challenge his order.

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