Joey Barton Ruled Offside Against Jeremy Vine Over Defamatory Comments

Written by Hannah Porter

Former Premier League footballer, Joey Barton recently conceded to an unlikely opponent in Jeremy Vine, after posting a series of online defamatory comments about the BBC Radio 2 presenter.

The abuse began after Mr Barton compared two football pundits to serial killers, Fred and Rose West, to which Mr Vine asked if he had a brain injury. Barton responded in a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, and a post on the “GoFundMe” platform, the majority of which alleged that Vine had a sexual interest in children.

Vine issued proceedings for libel, misuse of private information and harassment.

The Meanings Hearing

The first task for the court was to consider whether the publications were capable of bearing the meanings attributed to it by the Plaintiff and, essentially, whether the words were a statement of fact or an expression of an opinion; both of which may be used as a defence to a defamation claim.

Barton contended that most of the comments were “mere vulgar abuse” that should not be taken seriously and convey no defamatory meaning. However, in a preliminary hearing in May 2024, the High Court of England & Wales concluded that the majority of the posts were defamatory of Mr Vine.

Mrs Justice Steyn stated that the “hypothetical reader would not have gained the impression that this was meaningless abuse, in the heat of the moment. It was a statement of fact, and it was defamatory at common law.” She said the “strong impression” from the words was that they were used in their “primary meaning to allege the claimant has a sexual interest in children”.

The court concluded that nine of the fourteen publications, and parts of a tenth publication, were defamatory and had been published as statements of fact, rather than opinion.

Barton’s Apology

Following the hearing, Mr Barton issued a lengthy apology, stating that his comments were untrue and that he had agreed to pay £75,000 to Mr Vine in damages and his legal costs.

However, Mr Vine’s legal team subsequently issued a statement that this was only the first step in the settlement, as Mr Barton is also required to participate in a Statement in Open Court and give undertakings not to repeat his conduct. Furthermore, Barton is required to pay an additional £35,000 and legal costs as a result of other defamatory comments published about Vine after he issued legal proceedings.

The statement said that Mr Vine has been “vindicated in respect of Mr Barton’s appalling allegations and conduct” and is pleased that his claims have been resolved.

Defamation in Northern Ireland

While the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 introduced a number of changes to the law in this jurisdiction, it did not stretch to incorporate all aspects of the Defamation Act 2013 in England & Wales. Accordingly, the threshold to prove defamation in this jurisdiction remains much lower than in England and Wales.

Additionally, the courts in England & Wales have made it clear that, in accordance with the overriding objective, a hearing to determine meaning in a defamation case should be held at an early stage, and before service of the Defence. In Northern Ireland, a meanings hearing can be held at any stage after service of the Statement of Claim.

While applications to determine meaning are often used in this jurisdiction to bring definition to potentially ambiguous claims, it is not standard practice to do so in every case in Northern Ireland. However, as this case has outlined, a successful meaning application can lead to quick and efficient resolution of defamation claims.

If you would like further information on the issues discussed in this article please contact Hannah Porter, Associate, or another member of the Media, Communications and Reputation team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

About the author

Hannah Porter


Hannah Porter is an Associate in the Media, Communications and Reputation team at Carson McDowell. Hannah is involved in all aspects of media law and litigation, including defamation, privacy, reputation management, data protection and pre-broadcast/pre-publication advice.