Rebekah Vardy versus Coleen Rooney libel trial: Day one court report

Rebekah Vardy versus Coleen Rooney libel trial: Full report of day one

Rebekah Vardy versus Coleen Rooney libel trial: Rooneys arrive at the High Court

On day one of the Rebekah Vardy versus Coleen Rooney libel trial, the court heard Rooney will rely on a public interest defence.

But the High Court heard today that she did not put accusations that Vardy betrayed her trust by leaking stories to the Sun to her in advance of publication.

Rooney will also need to prove that her allegations were true (relying on the defence of truth).

Vardy “had no choice” but to bring the libel claim against Rooney to “establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation”, the High Court has been told.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Vardy, set out her case to the court.

He said that, on October 9 2019, Rooney published a post to more than two million followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook which “accused Mrs Vardy of being the person who, over a period of years, had consistently and regularly leaked information about her, her friends and her family, to The Sun newspaper”.

He told the court “it was expressed in a dramatic style”, referring to the way Rooney posted “It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account”.

Tomlinson said that, as a result of the post, Vardy – who was seven months pregnant at the time – and her family were subjected to horrible abuse, including one post calling her an “evil rat-faced bitch” and others saying she should die and her baby should be “put in an incinerator”.

He said her husband Jamie Vardy was also subjected to chants about her during football matches.

Tomlinson said: “The allegation was false, Mrs Vardy had not leaked information about Mrs Rooney, her friends and family to The Sun newspaper.”

He added that, if information was leaked “this was not something that was done with Mrs Vardy’s knowledge or authority”.

Tomlinson said the affair and subsequent libel case had become the subject of intense press coverage and a source of “entertainment” in the media, being referred to as “Wag Wars” and “Wagatha Christie”.

He added: “This is far from being an entertaining case, it has been profoundly distressing and disturbing.”

He said Rooney’s post on Instagram was liked about 93,000 times while the Twitter post received more than 300,000 likes.

Tomlinson added: “(Mrs Vardy) needs to be able to clear her name through this case, so she can move on from this terrible episode.”

Tomlinson said  Rooney said in the post that she had saved and screenshotted the original newspaper stories which showed that, as she claimed, Vardy’s account had saved and shared her Instagram posts.

He told the court: “We say that this careful investigation was flawed from the start because it is obvious … anybody who knows anything about the operation of social media knows the fact somebody has an account does not necessarily mean that they are the only person who accessed it.”

He said the meaning of the post was that Rooney had made the accusation against Vardy.

Tomlinson also said that Rooney had “revelled in” being dubbed “Wagatha Christie”, and had shared posts which mocked her up as the renowned crime writer Agatha Christie.

Tomlinson told the court that the evidence around Rooney’s posting of three “false” stories on her private Instagram account as part of her effort to identify who was leaking information about her was “flawed”.

He said a Sun newspaper article about  Rooney returning to TV had “nothing” to do with the “so-called TV decisions” post that she made.

“The post referred to I’m A Celebrity, the article referred to Strictly Come Dancing,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson claimed that “the idea that Mrs Rooney was going to go back into TV” had been repeated by a number of news outlets “several times” in 2019.

“Whoever put it out there, it hadn’t come from the fake post,” he said.

Tomlinson claimed that Rooney had “grudgingly accepted” that there was “a problem in relation to this post” which does not “match up entirely” with the article.

“They don’t really have anything to do with each other,” he added.

Tomlinson added that there was “no irrefutable evidence” that Vardy was the person who Mrs Rooney was concerned about leaking her private information.

“Mrs Rooney has no direct evidence of any of this,” he told the court.

He said Rooney’s post that triggered the Wagatha Christie dispute was “obviously defamatory”.

“Mrs Rooney was accusing Mrs Vardy of betraying her and betraying her friends and family by disclosing this private information,” he said.

“That allegation was false, Mrs Vardy had not done that.”

Explaining the workings of English libel law for those following the case,  Tomlinson said: “Mrs Vardy is entitled to damages for defamation unless Mrs Rooney can establish a defence that is known to the law.”

He later added: “The defendant [Mrs Rooney] must prove the substantial truth of the allegation that’s made.”

The court heard that Vardy’s agent Caroline Watt had recently withdrawn a witness statement from the trial in which she said she had not leaked stories.

Watt also withdrew a waiver that might have allowed Sun journalists to say whether or not she was the source.

Tomlinson said until these developments “Mrs Vardy believed that Ms Watt wasn’t the source of the leaks”.

“She trusted her friend, that was Ms Watt’s own evidence,” he said.

“The result of all these developments is that Mrs Vardy doesn’t know what to think. She accepts that it’s possible that it may be that Ms Watt was the source of some or all of the stories.”

Tomlinson added: “As Mrs Vardy’s PR, Ms Watt had access to her Instagram account.”

Tomlinson continued addressing Mrs Justice Steyn by saying there is “no information” in any of the evidence that demonstrates Mrs Vardy even viewed Mrs Rooney’s Instagram posts during the “sting operation”.

He told the court: “Mrs Vardy does not actually know what happened, she doesn’t know how this information got into the press, all she knows is what she did and she knows it wasn’t her.”

The barrister said Rooney’s case is “entirely inferential” and that another line of her argument is to say Vardy has been “destroying evidence, she has deleted it and she has conspired to conceal all evidence of her wrongdoing”.

He added: “This is untrue, there is no such campaign of deletion. The reason there is no such evidence against Mrs Vardy is because she didn’t do it.”

Tomlinson said that in the 2019 post, Rooney “said she knew for certain”  Vardy had leaked information so to say now that there is no evidence because it has been deleted is “completely inconsistent” with the allegation she made at the time.

Vardy “was some times irritated” by Rooney, Tomlinson told the court.

He claimed there was a “glaring absence” of evidence to prove the accusations Rooney made against her fellow footballer’s wife.

Tomlinson said Rooney’s legal team “tries to fill these gaps” by relying on disclosed Whatsapp messages between Vardy and her agent Watt.

He said these were private conversations between two friends and “show that in private Vardy often uses strong language”.

“What those exchanges show was that Mrs Vardy was sometimes irritated by Mrs Rooney, rightly or wrongly,” he added.

“She said rude things about her, she used four-letter words.

“It’s not unknown for people to talk in private conversation in ways that they wouldn’t talk about in public.”

Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne argued his client had proved her case despite Vardy and her agent Watt “deliberately” destroying evidence.

Sherborne said in written submissions: “The defendant has shown that, despite the deliberate destruction of evidence by the claimant and Ms Watt, despite obstruction and obfuscation to try to hide relevant documents, and despite the lies of both the claimant and Ms Watt, it is clear, at least on the balance of probabilities, which is all that is necessary, that the leaks arose from the habitual and established practice of the claimant: leaking information about those she knew via Ms Watt to The Sun and others.

“This was a sustained betrayal of the defendant’s trust.”

Sherborne added that Rooney had posted a “warning shot” about her concerns over leaks from her private Instagram account.

He continued: “In response to the despair of the warning shot posts, the claimant and Ms Watt laughed … before turning back to their squalid work.”

Sherborne said Rooney was appearing in the courtroom “not because she she wants to, she’s here because she has to be”.

“She’s been brought here because of something she wrote,” he added.

“She didn’t want to have to write it any more than she wants to be here.”

Sherborne said social media could be used “to share things that you would rather the world didn’t know”.

“That was the point of her (Mrs Rooney’s) private Instagram account”.
He said that when someone in the “circle” of people given access to information on social media leaks it to a newspaper “it is deeply upsetting”.

“It makes you paranoid as well, who’s doing it?” he added.

“It’s an inescapable fact that someone you trust to be invited into that group of people has chosen to secretly pass information to which they have access, without any knowledge or consent to a newspaper.”

Sherborne described what he called a series of “most improbable events” that had affected the disclosure of evidence in the case from Vardy and those around her.

This included Caroline Watt’s “poor unfortunate phone” falling into the North Sea “within days” of the court ordering that, even though she was not a party to proceedings, it should be searched for disclosure.

“What terrible luck,” Sherborne said.

Sherborne said Vardy’s case has changed since her original claim.

“What was said at the time about possible alternatives is now not put forward by Mrs Vardy and that is because she and Ms Watt concocted a series of lies at the time,” he told the court.

The barrister said it was “particularly telling” how Vardy and  Watt reacted when Rooney said she suspected someone had leaked an incorrect story about a car crash, arguing they were “spooked”.

“It is Mrs Vardy’s reaction to this that shows she was responsible for the leaks,” Sherborne said.

Sherborne claimed that Vardy was one of the people who “provided information” to the Secret Wag column in The Sun.

“It is modelled on Mrs Vardy who was largely responsible for providing information,” he told the court.

Sherborne said: “We submit Mrs Vardy had the means, access to Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account.

“She has the opportunity through her connections to journalists at the Sun and she has the motive to have secretly passed on information from Mrs Rooney’s account in the way that we say she did.”

“Mrs Vardy was responsible for the secret passing on of information that is the subject of this claim,” he added.

Vardy told the court: “I didn’t give any information to a newspaper”.

Under questioning from Sherborne she agreed with his proposition that it was “wrong” and “upsetting” for someone to secretly pass on another person’s information that they didn’t want shared.

She later added: “I didn’t leak anything to anyone.”

Sherborne said: “You wouldn’t want to be called a leaker, would you?”

Vardy replied: “I have been called a leaker and it’s not nice.”

The barrister later asked if Vardy respected people’s privacy, to which she replied: “Yes, I do.”

Vardy was asked whether it was “respectful” of Peter Andre’s “right not to share this information” about their sexual encounter with a newspaper.

She replied: “I was forced into a situation by my ex-husband to do this. It is something that I deeply regret… It is not nice to read and I understand why this is being used and to me this is mudslinging and I was also threatened with mudslinging by Mrs Rooney’s team.”

Asked the question again by Sherborne, she said: “The circumstances around it were completely different.”

She later said she did not ask Andre for his permission or tell him it was going to happen in advance.

Sherborne asked: “Did you feel particularly strongly about the size of his manhood that it should be made public?”

Vardy replied: “It was something that I was forced to say.”

Under questioning, Rebekah Vardy confirmed that she did not tell Coleen Rooney that her agent Caroline Watt had access to her private Instagram account.

David Sherborne asked her: “You agree with me that if Ms Watt was looking at people’s private Instagram accounts through the use of your account that you’ve given her, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” Mrs Vardy replied, later adding: “I didn’t know that’s what was happening.”

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