Joey Barton's posts about Jeremy Vine defamatory

Mid shot of Joey Barton wearing a cap and jacket
[Getty Images]

A High Court judge has ruled that comments Joey Barton made about Jeremy Vine on social media were defamatory.

The former footballer was sued by the radio and TV presenter for libel and harassment over 14 posts on on X, formerly known as Twitter.

After being asked to rule on the "natural and ordinary" meaning of the posts, Mrs Justice Steyn ruled on Friday that 11 of the posts could defame Mr Vine, who works for the BBC.

She said the "strong impression" from the words was that the term was being used in its "primary meaning to allege the claimant has a sexual interest in children".

Warning: this article contains strong language

The ex Premier League footballer turned manager Mr Barton, 41, had called Mr Vine, 59, a "bike nonce" and "pedo defender".

In the judgment, Mrs Justice Steyn explained: "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.

That prompted the broadcaster to ask 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".

Mr Barton's barrister, William McCormick KC, said the posts contained "vulgar abuse" but did not libel Mr Vine.

He added that the posts represented "someone who is posting in the heat of the moment".

Mr McCormick said in written submissions that references "aka bike nonce" was an "obvious attempt at humorous abuse of Mr Vine".