Shropshire Star

Joey Barton calling Jeremy Vine ‘bike nonce’ had defamatory meaning, judge rules

The radio and TV presenter is suing the former footballer for libel and harassment.

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Joey Barton court case

Joey Barton calling broadcaster Jeremy Vine a “bike nonce” on social media did have a defamatory meaning, a High Court judge has ruled.

The radio and TV presenter is suing the former footballer for libel and harassment over 14 online posts, including where he called Mr Vine a “big bike nonce” and a “pedo defender” on X, formerly Twitter.

At a preliminary hearing earlier this month, Mrs Justice Steyn was asked to decide several early issues in the case, including the “natural and ordinary” meanings of the posts and whether they were statements of fact or opinion.

On Friday, the judge ruled that 11 of the posts could defame Mr Vine.

She said: “The strong impression gained by the assertion the claimant is known as ‘aka’ ‘bike nonce’, followed immediately by the further assertion that he is known as, again, ‘aka’ ‘pedo defender’, is that the term ‘nonce’ was being used in its primary meaning to allege the claimant has a sexual interest in children.

“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’.

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

Mr Vine’s barrister, Gervase de Wilde, told the hearing in London on May 9 that the abuse began following Mr Barton’s comments on women involved in football, particularly in the media, from the end of 2023.

Following a social media post where Mr Barton compared female pundits Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward to serial killers Fred and Rose West, Mr Vine questioned the remarks and whether Mr Barton had a brain injury.

Joey Barton (Simon Galloway/PA)
Joey Barton (Simon Galloway/PA)

This led to Mr Barton launching a “calculated and sustained attack on Mr Vine” in early January this year, Mr de Wilde said.

Mr Barton published several posts over the following days to his 2.8 million followers and began using “#bikenonce” on X, which led to it trending on the platform, the court was told.

Mr de Wilde said that the posts contained “clear references to (Mr Vine) having a sexual interest in children” and that the word “nonce” had “an irreducible, defamatory meaning”.

William McCormick KC, for Mr Barton, said the posts contained “vulgar abuse” but did not libel Mr Vine and represented “someone who is posting in the heat of the moment”.

Discussing one post published on January 8, which said Mr Vine was “aka bike nonce”, Mr McCormick said in written submissions that the term was an “obvious attempt at humorous abuse of Mr Vine”.

But discussing another post which included the phrase “bike nonce”, Mrs Justice Steyn said: “In my judgment, the hypothetical ordinary reasonable reader would understand the post as taunting, scorning and ridiculing the claimant for his alleged proclivity.

“The jocular tone might be seen by the ordinary reasonable reader as in bad taste, given the subject matter, but it would not lead them to understand that no allegation of having a sexual interest in children was seriously being made.

“Nor would the reader perceive it as meaningless abuse ‘shouted’ in the heat of the moment, as there is nothing in the post that would give that impression.”

Mr Barton’s career saw him play for teams including Manchester City, Newcastle United and French side Marseille, before managing English Football League sides Fleetwood Town and Bristol Rovers.

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