A High Court judge has thrown out parts of Coleen Rooney’s libel defence but allowed her to keep arguments relating to Rebekah Vardy’s alleged close relationship with The Sun.
Mrs Rooney, 35, accused Mrs Vardy, 39, of leaking “false stories” about her private life in October 2019 after carrying out a months-long “sting operation” which saw her dubbed “Wagatha Christie”.
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Mrs Vardy (pictured, right), who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denies the accusations and is suing Mrs Rooney (left) for libel.
At a hearing in June, Mrs Vardy’s lawyers asked the High Court to throw out parts of Mrs Rooney’s defence as they were “irrelevant or peripheral” to the case.
This included allegations of Mrs Vardy’s close relationship with The Sun and her alleged but denied authorship of “The Secret Wag” column.
In a judgment delivered on Wednesday, Mrs Justice Steyn threw out parts of Mrs Rooney’s defence but kept some aspects that Mrs Vardy had applied to strike out.
The judge dismissed a claim by Mrs Rooney that her fellow footballer’s wife showed “publicity-seeking behaviour” when sitting behind Mrs Rooney in someone else’s seat at the 2016 Euros.
Mrs Justice Steyn found that even assuming the allegation was true, it would still not help Mrs Rooney’s case.
She said: “The fact that a person seeks media coverage of their own attendance at a football match does not make it more probable that they would disclose private information about another person to the press.”
The judge said the argument was irrelevant, adding “it would be a waste of time and resources” for the claim to continue.
Mrs Justice Steyn also threw out an allegation that Mrs Vardy was leaking about the libel case itself to The Sun.
She said: “While this is an allegation of leaking confidential information to The Sun, the nature of it is very different to what was alleged in the post.
“Notably, the defendant has pleaded it in support of the contention that there is a close relationship between the claimant and The Sun, rather than as an instance of the claimant disclosing another person’s private information.”
The judge further dismissed part of Mrs Rooney’s defence about how Mrs Vardy had written a statement for the press regulator IPSO after a complaint was made about The Sun.
However, Mrs Justice Steyn said the alleged close relationship between Mrs Vardy and the newspaper was “one of the building blocks” of Mrs Rooney’s inferential case.
She said: “I accept that an exceptionally close relationship between the claimant and the newspaper or journalists to whom the defendant’s posts are alleged to have been disclosed is probative of the plea of truth, albeit on its own it would not take the defendant far.”
She continued: “It can, at least, be said to be less likely that a person with no such relationship would regularly disclose private information about others to that newspaper or those journalists and, perhaps, less likely that the disclosure would, on its own, result in a published article.”
The Secret Wag
Mrs Vardy’s lawyers previously told the court that her alleged – but denied – authorship of “The Secret Wag” column, was not relevant to the trial.
However, Mrs Rooney’s lawyers argued it demonstrated Mrs Vardy’s “history and practice of publicly disclosing private information about other people she was friendly or associated with”.
Mrs Justice Steyn found that the short-lived column was relevant to the case, continuing: “While these paragraphs do not go to the core issues, the allegation that the claimant had, or was the primary source for, a gossip column about professional footballers and their partners in The Sun is logically probative similar fact evidence.”
The judge also refused to throw out other parts of Mrs Rooney’s defence about Mrs Vardy’s alleged close relationship with The Sun and its journalists, including how she interacted with some on social media and positive coverage she allegedly received for leaking stories.
She said: “The claimant’s engagement on social media with these journalists is relevant in considering the defendant’s case that she had an exceptionally close relationship with them, which I have accepted is one of the building blocks on which the defendant seeks to build her defence of truth.”
Mrs Vardy’s lawyers had argued that removing the parts of Mrs Rooney’s defence would save £200,000 in Mrs Vardy’s legal costs, and reduce the length of the trial by three to four days.
However, Mrs Rooney’s lawyers previously said the request was a tactical move as parts of the defence would “undermine [Mrs Vardy’s] case as well as embarrass her”.
Mrs Justice Steyn later dismissed Mrs Vardy’s bid for summary judgment – a legal step which would see that part of the case resolved without a trial – in relation to Mrs Rooney’s claim that Mrs Vardy leaked a story to The Sun about her returning to TV presenting.
She concluded: “It is one of many factual issues to be resolved at trial in determining whether the truth defence is made out.
“It seems highly unlikely that resolution of this issue would assist the parties to settle the claim.”
Picture: PA Wire/PA Images