Hypnotist Paul McKenna today launched a High Court libel claim against The Daily Mirror over an article that he claims "pilloried him as a fraud" alleging he had a bogus PhD from an American university.
The 43-year old entertainer turned self-help expert is suing the paper's publishers over an October 2003 by Victor Lewis-Smith, headlined "It's a load of doc and bull'. The piece claimed he had received a "bogus degree" from Lasalle University, Lousiana.
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His counsel, Desmond Browne QC told Mr Justice Eady today: "This case is at the end of the day very simple. Lewis-Smith and the Mirror pilloried Mr McKenna as a fraud, claiming that he had a doctorate to which no honest entitlement. The allegation is of fraud and dishonesty – that Mr McKenna positively knew that his PhD was bogus."
"They can't prove that to be true. The case which they seek to advance today is not one they advanced in correspondence, not one they advanced in the initial stages of this action and, now they do advance it, it's our submission that it will meet with inevitable failure."
He said that the newspaper's defence now amounted to a claim that McKenna was "reckless" as to whether his degree was bogus.
However, he claimed that this amounted to a defence to a grave allegation that has been mounted with "increasing desperation and inconsistency".
He said that the case was "not about Mr McKenna being a charlatan", and described the publishers' defence of McKenna's alleged recklessness as "weasel words for a weasel case".
He said that McKenna, a dyslexic, sought a PhD to make up for his failure at school and add value to his hypnotherapy business. However, far from simply being able to buy one, he said McKenna was originally rejected for the course by Lasalle.
Only at the end of 1996, after McKenna had persuaded the University of his project's academic merit and had been awarded the PhD was it was discovered that Lasalle was accredited by a fraudulently created body – the Council for Post Secondary Christian Education – set up by the university's founder, Thomas Kirk.
The hearing is scheduled to last at least a week, after which Mr Justice Eady is expected to reserve his decision in order to give it in writing at a later date. McKenna, who was present in court today, is expected to give evidence tomorrow.