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MP must cure deficiencies in Hancock claim - judge

Matt Hancock in a jumper and overcoat
Matt Hancock has been sued for defamation by fellow independent MP Andrew Bridgen [PA Media]

A High Court judge has told an MP suing the former health secretary Matt Hancock for defamation that he must remedy “deficiencies” in his claim if the case is to continue.

Mrs Justice Steyn said Andrew Bridgen’s claim would be struck out if amendments were not outlined in the next few weeks.

She also ordered Mr Bridgen to pay 90% of the money Mr Hancock had spent on lawyers - £44,300 - during an initial round of the legal fight.

The judge set deadlines for Mr Bridgen in a written court order issued on Thursday, following a preliminary ruling delivered on 20 March.

Mr Bridgen, an independent MP for North West Leicestershire, has sued Mr Hancock, an independent MP for West Suffolk, over a tweet.

He claims that the post was "malicious" and labelled him as anti-Semitic.

Mr Hancock disputes his claim.

Both are former Conservative MPs.

Mr Hancock had asked the judge, at a High Court hearing in London on 1 March, to strike out Mr Bridgen's claim. He argued that Mr Bridgen had not articulated a "viable case".

Mrs Justice Steyn said, in her 20 March ruling, that an "essential element" of Mr Bridgen's "cause of action" had not been made out in claim papers.

She struck out some parts Mr Bridgen's claim but decided against striking out the entire claim.

She said Mr Bridgen should have a chance to make amendments and "remedy the deficiencies".

On Thursday she issued a written order in which she outlined a timetable for amendments and made decisions on who should pick up which bills.

Andrew Bridgen smiling
A judge has given Andrew Bridgen a chance to cure "deficiencies" in his claim [PA Media]

The judge said Mr Bridgen must provide "draft" amendments to Mr Hancock by 10 April and make a court application "seeking permission" to make amendments by 24 April.

She said if that did not happen - or if a judge refused an application to make amendments - the "claim shall stand struck out, without further order".

Mrs Justice Steyn said although she had not struck out the claim, it was clear that Mr Hancock had been the "successful party".

She ordered Mr Bridgen to pay 90% of Mr Hancock's legal costs - £44,300.

Expelled

The judge has heard how on 11 January 2023, Mr Bridgen had shared a link to an article "concerned data about deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Covid vaccines".

He wrote on X, formerly Twitter: "As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust."

Shortly after, Mr Hancock had posted: "Disgusting and dangerous antisemitic, anti-vax, anti-scientific conspiracy theories spouted by a sitting MP this morning are unacceptable and have absolutely no place in our society."

Mr Bridgen argued that people reading the tweet would know it was about him and that it was "seriously defamatory and untrue".

He claims it was intended to cause "grievous harm" to his reputation.

Lawyers for Mr Hancock said it is was "hopeless" to argue that a reader of his tweet - which echoed comments made earlier in the day in Parliament - would have assumed it referred to Mr Bridgen.

They said the claim does not have "a realistic prospect of success".

Mr Bridgen was expelled from the Conservative Party in April 2022 over his social media post.

He joined actor Laurence Fox's Reclaim Party but later quit the group over a "difference in direction".

Mr Hancock, who served as the Conservative government's health secretary during the height of the Covid pandemic, lost the Tory whip over his appearance on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2022.

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