'Disastrous result' for Coleen Rooney at first stage of 'Wagatha Christie' libel battle

Coleen Rooney’s post accusing Rebekah Vardy of leaking stories about her private life to the media “clearly identified” her as being “guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust that she alleges”, the High Court has ruled.

Rooney (pictured), 34, accused Vardy, 38, of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the media last October after carrying out a months-long “sting operation” which saw her dubbed “Wagatha Christie”.

The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney claimed fellow footballer’s wife Vardy shared fake stories she had posted on her personal Instagram account with The Sun.

Rooney wrote on Instagram and Twitter: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them.

“It’s ……………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

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Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denies the accusations and is suing Rooney for damages for libel.

In a judgment on Friday, Mr Justice Warby ruled that the “natural and ordinary” meaning of Rooney’s posts was that Vardy had “regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories”.

Announcing his decision, the judge said that the meaning he had determined was “substantially the same as the claimant’s meaning”.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Warby said Rooney’s message was “a considered post, using wording composed with some care”.

He added: “It would be clear to the ordinary reader from the outset that it was meant seriously, and intended to convey a message of some importance.”

He also rejected Rooney’s contention that she simply referred to Vardy’s Instagram account, rather than Vardy herself.

The judge ruled: “I certainly do not think that the ordinary reader would take that single word (account), albeit repeated, to indicate that Mrs Rooney remains in doubt about who the wrongdoer was.”

He added: “There is nothing in these words, apart from the word ‘account’, that in any way suggests that the behaviour of which Mrs Rooney is complaining might have been carried out by anyone other than the account holder, Mrs Vardy.”

Mr Justice Warby ordered Rooney to pay Vardy just under £23,000 in costs for Thursday’s hearing.

At that hearing, Vardy’s barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said Rooney’s posts were an “untrue and unjustified defamatory attack” which was “published and republished to millions of people”.

He added: “In fact, she did nothing wrong. Whatever leaks there were did not come from her.”

David Sherborne, representing Rooney, argued that it was “true” that Vardy was “responsible for consistently passing on information about the defendant’s private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun”.

He said: “Mrs Rooney intends to defend these words as true in whatever meaning.”

The court also heard both Vardy and Rooney had agreed for a “stay” of the proceedings until February, so there could be “one final attempt to resolve the matter without the need for a full trial”.

Matthew Dando, partner at Wiggin LLP and a media litigation specialist, called the judge’s ruling a “disastrous result” for Rooney.

“Whilst it is Rebekah Vardy suing for libel, it is Coleen who has to prove the truth of what she said in order to defend the claim,” he said.

“The judge has found that Coleen’s post told a ‘whodunnit’ story and pointed the finger firmly at Rebekah for having personally abused her status and made a great deal of information about Coleen public.

 “This makes it much harder for Coleen to prove the truth of the allegation because she will have to show that it was Rebekah herself who was leaking the stories.  It won’t be enough to show that the leak simply came from her account or people operating it.

“This really raises the stakes and makes the task ahead for Coleen much greater. But, if she succeeds in proving Rebekah’s involvement in the leak, the case will be devastating for Rebekah’s reputation.

“Suing for libel is always high risk, as Johnny Depp recently discovered.  If this case fights all the way to trial it will be yet another example of a celebrity reputation won or lost in the courtroom.”

Picture: Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff Livepic 

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