Coleen Rooney accused of 'fishing expedition' from Sun in libel defence

Rebekah Vardy can use summaries for four Sun journalists in libel case against Coleen Rooney, judge rules

Update 21 April 2022:

A High Court judge has allowed Rebekah Vardy to use written summaries for four Sun journalists as part of her libel case against Coleen Rooney.

Mrs Justice Steyn has allowed the use of the summaries, which state what witnesses are expected to say based on instructions from Mrs Vardy and her agent, from Sun journalists Andy Halls, Simon Boyle and Michael Hamilton – the authors of the articles Mrs Rooney said her opponent planted information about as part of her “sting operation”. The fourth journalist was named as Amy Brookbanks.

Mrs Justice Steyn said that Mrs Rooney claims “that the claimant enjoyed an ‘extremely close relationship’ with Mr Halls and Mr Boyle, and that they were people she directly communicated and interacted with on social media for several years.”

She continued: “I accept it is likely that they will be able to give relevant evidence regarding their relationships with the claimant and, subject to any question of source protection, whether she was a source of private information about the defendant and others published in their articles.”

The judge concluded it was in the “interests of justice” for Mrs Vardy to be able to serve the witness summaries from a total of four journalists.

Original story 13 April 2022:

Coleen Rooney has been accused of a “fishing expedition” after she requested documents relating to nine Sun journalists in preparation to defend herself in a libel trial brought by Rebekah Vardy.

On Wednesday, the High Court denied most of the request but granted Mrs Rooney permission to see communications between Mrs Vardy and her agent Caroline Watts with Andy Halls, The Sun‘s head of TV and former editor of its Bizarre showbiz column.

Mrs Rooney accused Mrs Vardy of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the media in October 2019 after carrying out a months-long “sting operation”.

The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney was dubbed “Wagatha Christie” when she publicly claimed her fellow footballer’s wife shared fake stories she had posted on her personal Instagram account with The Sun newspaper.

Mrs Vardy (pictured, right), who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denies the accusations and is suing Mrs Rooney (pictured, left) for libel.

Sun documents ‘last resort’

At a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Mrs Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne asked for some documents from News Group Newspapers – the publisher of The Sun – to be disclosed.

Mr Sherborne said this focused on communications between Mrs Vardy, her agent Ms Watt and nine journalists working for The Sun newspaper in which the two women were allegedly “passing on stories or information relating to other parties”.

He claimed disclosure linked to Mrs Vardy in the legal dispute had been hit by “a series of unfortunate events” which meant the bid for information from the journalists was a “last resort”.

“In order to get the documents needed for the fair disposal of her claim she finds herself in between a rock and a hard place,” Mr Sherborne added.

The barrister later claimed this included Mrs Vardy’s expert downloading her data to inspect but then he had “forgotten the password which he used to encrypt the material and he couldn’t remember it”.

However, Sara Mansoori QC, for Mrs Vardy, later said there had been a “corruption issue” with the password.

Adam Wolanski QC, representing News Group Newspapers, labelled Mrs Rooney’s bid for disclosure from The Sun journalists as a “fishing expedition”.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, also for Mrs Vardy, said she was “critically neutral” on the request for documents.

“Rebekah Vardy has nothing to hide,” he told the court.

Mrs Justice Steyn granted Mrs Rooney’s request for the documents from News Group Newspapers but only related to communications between Mrs Vardy, Ms Watt and The Sun journalist Andy Halls.

‘Key witness’ unfit to give evidence

The High Court in London has also heard that Ms Watt is not fit to give oral evidence to the trial due to start next month.

Mrs Rooney’s lawyers previously claimed that Mrs Vardy had leaked information to The Sun either directly or through Ms Watt “acting on her instruction or with her knowing approval”.

Ms Watt was referred to at an earlier hearing after the High Court in London heard that WhatsApp messages between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt had been disclosed.

Texts heard in court included Mrs Vardy referring to someone, whose identity is disputed, as a “nasty bitch”.

In written arguments for Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Tomlinson said: “The claimant served a witness statement of Caroline Watt with the intention of calling Ms Watt to give oral evidence at the trial.

“The claimant’s solicitors were, however, aware that Ms Watt was in a fragile state and had been expressing serious concerns about giving evidence.”

He added that a consultant forensic psychiatrist has produced a report which concluded Ms Watt is not fit to provide oral evidence at the High Court trial.

“In these circumstances, it is clear that Ms Watt cannot be called to give evidence,” he concluded.

Mr Sherborne argued Ms Watt is a “key witness” for the trial with “critical” evidence.

In written arguments, Mr Sherborne said: “Ms Watt is now saying that she is too ill to attend court to be cross-examined on the events and allegations concerning her, although she was and is able to provide a lengthy witness statement about them, provided she is not questioned about it.

“The defendant’s position is that Ms Watt’s concern about giving evidence is because of the realisation that her evidence is untrue and therefore she is scared of being tested upon it.”

On Wednesday, the barrister told the court that Ms Watt had revoked her permission for Mrs Vardy to use her witness statement during the trial.

He also said Ms Watt had withdrawn a waiver she previously made, which would have allowed journalists at The Sun to say whether or not she was the source of any of the allegedly leaked stories.

Mr Sherborne continued: “The revoking of her waiver and her removal of permission for the witness statement to be used can only have one reason.

“That is because she realises that it is untrue … There is no other reason why she would revoke the waiver for source protection.”

Mr Sherborne argued he would be limited in questioning any journalists from The Sun who attend the trial about Ms Watt.

“It puts the final nail in the coffin of this being a fair trial. Only half the story can be investigated,” the barrister concluded.

Mr Tomlinson said Mr Sherborne’s complaint was “wholly misconceived”.

He added that arguments about why Ms Watt withdrew permission for the witness statement were “a submission he can make in due course” and that “we do not know on this side why she has changed her mind”.

Picture: PA Wire/PA Images



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.