Wagatha Christie: Rebekah Vardy loses libel battle against Coleen Rooney
A judge ruled in Coleen Rooney's favour - and said it was "likely" Rebekah Vardy knew about and condoned the passing on of information, reports Martha Fairlie
Rebekah Vardy has lost the 'Wagatha Christie' High Court libel battle she brought against Coleen Rooney over a viral social media post.
In a viral social media post in October 2019, Mrs Rooney, 36, said she had carried out a “sting operation” and accused Mrs Vardy, 40, of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the press.
It is believed the total legal costs of the case will be in the region of £3 million, most of which will now be borne by Mrs Vardy. As well as the legal defeat, experts believe revelations made during the trial will have irreparably damaged her reputation.
Mrs Rooney said in a statement that she was "pleased" the ruling went in her favour but that she "never believed" the case should have gone to court "at such expense in times of hardship for so many people when the money could have been far better spent helping others".
The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney publicly claimed Mrs Vardy’s account was the source behind three fake stories she had posted on her private Instagram account. Mrs Rooney earned the nickname "Wagatha Christie" thanks to her social media probe.
In response to the ruling, Mrs Vardy said she was "extremely sad and disappointed at the decision" as it was not what she "had expected, nor believe was just".
"I brought this action to vindicate my reputation and am devastated by the Judge’s finding," she added.
In her ruling, Mrs Justice Steyn said it was “likely” Mrs Vardy’s agent at the time, Caroline Watt, “undertook the direct act” of passing the information to The Sun.
She said Mrs Vardy chose not to call Ms Watt to give evidence partly because she knew her evidence “would be shown to be untrue”.
Mrs Justice Steyn added: “Nonetheless, the evidence … clearly shows, in my view, that Mrs Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots of Mrs Rooney’s posts, drawing attention to items of potential interest to the press, and answering additional queries raised by the press via Ms Watt.
The judge added: “In my judgment, the conclusions that I have reached as to the extent to which the claimant engaged in disclosing to The Sun information to which she only had access as a permitted follower of an Instagram account which she knew, and Mrs Rooney repeatedly asserted, was private, suffice to show the single meaning is substantially true.”
Mrs Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denied leaking the stories and sued her fellow footballer’s wife for libel, while Mrs Rooney defended the claim on the basis her post was “substantially true”.
The fake stories Mrs Rooney planted on her Instagram during the sting operation featured her travelling to Mexico for a “gender selection” procedure, her planning to return to TV, and the basement flooding at her home.
In the post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, she wrote: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. “It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
Over seven days in courtroom number 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice, the two footballers’ wives each gave evidence as revelations from the case made daily headlines across the British press.
During the trial, the two women each gave evidence, as did Mr Rooney, also 36, who played for Everton and Manchester United as well as England.
Referring to Mrs Rooney’s viral “reveal” post at the end of the trial, her barrister David Sherborne told the court: “It is what she believed at the time… and it is what she believes even more so now that we have got to the end of the case.”
Mr Sherborne argued that Mrs Vardy had a “habitual and established practice” of leaking information about those she knew – through Ms Watt – to The Sun newspaper.
He said there were, in text message exchanges between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt, examples of the pair discussing leaking other people’s private information.
Following the verdict, Mrs Rooney said: “It was not a case I ever sought or wanted. I never believed it should have gone to court at such expense in times of hardship for so many people when the money could have been far better spent helping others.
“Both before and after my social media posts in October 2019, I made every effort to avoid the need for such a drawn out and public court case. All my attempts to do so were knocked back by Mrs (Rebekah) Vardy.
“This left me with no alternative but to go through with the case to defend myself and to end the repeated leaking of my private information to The Sun.
“These leaks from my private Instagram account began in 2017. They continued for almost two years, intruding on my privacy and that of my family. Although I bear Mrs Vardy no ill-will, today’s judgment makes clear that I was right in what I said in my posts of October 2019."
Mrs Vardy issued her own statement following the ruling, in which she said: “I am extremely sad and disappointed at the decision that the Judge has reached. It is not the result that I had expected, nor believe was just. I brought this action to vindicate my reputation and am devastated by the Judge’s finding.
"The judge accepted that publication of Coleen’s Post was not in the ‘public interest’ and she also rejected her claim that I was the ‘Secret Wag’. But as for the rest of her judgement, she got it wrong and this is something I cannot accept. "As I explained in my evidence I, my family and even my unborn baby, were subjected to disgusting messages and vile abuse following Coleen’s Post and these have continued even during the course of the trial. Please can the people who have been abusing me and my family now stop. The case is over. "I want to thank everyone who has supported me.”
Brand experts told ITV News the Wagatha Christie trial had been a PR disaster for Mrs Vardy and had severely damaged her reputation.
The case has dragged up a series of incidents that paint Mrs Vardy, 40, in a "very bad light", brand expert Nick Ede said, such as her 2004 News of The World interview, in which she ridiculed singer Peter Andre's genitalia.
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