Wagatha Christie verdict: Rebekah Vardy loses libel trial vs Coleen Rooney

Wagatha Christie verdict: Rebekah Vardy loses libel trial against Coleen Rooney

Wagatha Christie verdict: Rebekah Vardy vs Coleen Rooney

Rebekah Vardy has lost her libel trial against Coleen Rooney in what was dubbed the Wagatha Christie case.

Rooney succeeded in proving the claim was “substantially true”, a High Court judge said on Friday.

Her secondary defence of the public interest failed largely because she had not given Vardy an opportunity to respond to the allegation before publication.

Vardy (pictured, left) sued for libel after Rooney (right) posted on social media in October 2019 accusing her of leaking stories about her to The Sun. Rooney said she had deleted everyone else from her private Instagram and knew only Vardy was looking at her Stories, where she was planting fake stories.

The High Court heard Vardy had denied leaking the stories but said it was possible it had been her former agent Caroline Watt, who was too unwell to give evidence to the trial.

The judge said that although Watt was likely to have passed on the information to Sun journalists, she believed Vardy “knew of, condoned and was actively engaged in this process”.

What did the Wagatha Christie verdict say?

In a judgment handed down on Friday, Mrs Justice Steyn found that Vardy had been “party to” the disclosure to The Sun of eight posts including the three cited in Rooney’s original allegation.

The judge said: “It is likely that Ms Watt undertook the direct act, in relation to each post, of passing the information to a journalist at The Sun. Nonetheless, the evidence analysed above clearly shows, in my view, that Ms Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots of Ms 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 said it was likely that between 2017 and 2019 other information from Rooney’s Instagram had been passed on by Vardy and Watt that had not been published.

She added: “The information disclosed was not deeply confidential, and it can fairly be described as trivial, but it does not need to be confidential or important to meet the sting of the libel. It was information derived from private posts that Ms Rooney did not want made public.” Mrs Justice Steyn added that the fact Rooney had made up some of the stories did not “detract” from the overall conclusion.

On the other defence used, Mrs Justice Steyn agreed Rooney’s post revealing her sting operation was on a matter of public interest “namely the undesirable practice of information (in the nature of mere gossip) about celebrities’ private lives being disclosed to the press by trusted individuals” even though her interest in it was “essentially personal”.

She also accepted Rooney had believed it was in the public interest as she had given multiple warnings both on her Instagram account and in public about the behaviour concerned, but said this belief was not reasonable without giving Vardy a change to respond to the allegation.

“It is no answer to that point that Ms Rooney anticipated that Ms Vardy would deny the allegation,” Mrs Justice Steyn said.

The judge questioned the credibility of Vardy as a witness during the trial, saying there were “many occasions when her evidence was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence” and others were she was “evasive”.

And she concluded that Vardy’s regular leaking to The Sun was “unthinking rather than part of a considered and concerted business practice” and that perhaps she had “a degree of self-deception” as to the extent to which she was involved.

The judge added: “Ms Vardy was keen to be the subject of (positive) press coverage and it is apparent that she thought Ms Rooney was, too… In addition, it is evident that Ms Vardy genuinely believed that some information about Ms Rooney was being given to the press by (unknown) others and that she has unfairly been made the scapegoat for press coverage of the Rooneys.”

On the contrary she said Rooney was an “honest and reliable witness”.

What is the Wagatha Christie case about?

In October 2019 Rooney, wife of ex-England footballer Wayne Rooney, posted online that she had pulled off a sting operation on Instagram that proved, she said, that fellow footballer’s wife Vardy had leaked stories about her.

The post infamously ended with: “It’s……. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

Rooney claimed The Sun had published three false stories that could have come only from her Instagram Stories, where she had planted the information and restricted access from all but one of her followers’ accounts – Vardy.

The false stories cited in Rooney’s original post were that she had travelled to Mexico to look at gender selection treatment to help her have a baby girl, that she was returning to TV, and that the basement in her home had flooded.

The Sun said each of the stories had been put to Rooney’s representative before publication and they had declined to comment. Rooney told the High Court trial she had told her PR not to comment, adding “so obviously that means they run it or not, it’s up to them”.

Rooney also claimed in court Vardy had been leaking stories to The Sun’s “Secret Wag” column.

Sun journalists were not required to give evidence in court. Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Vardy, told the trial his client had wanted to call some of the journalists involved to give evidence but they “changed their mind having taken legal advice”.

He added that the fact they had refused to give evidence “can’t be of itself evidence that Mrs Vardy is the source of the stories”.

“All it shows is that [Vardy’s former agent Caroline] Watt was the source of at least one of the stories or perhaps more, that’s what the journalists would have said, that appears to be the inference,” Tomlinson alleged. “We can’t tell which story or stories that is.”

How much did the Wagatha Christie trial cost?

It is estimated that the total costs bill for both sides will be around £3m, with Vardy now expected to pay the vast majority of that as she lost the case.

Matthew Dando, partner at law firm Wiggin LLP, told PA that Vardy “runs the real risk” the case will leave her out of pocket.

Jack Ridgway, chairman of the Association of Costs Lawyers, told PA the process of deciding costs could take up to two years and that the winning party often has around 70% of their costs covered by the loser.

How did Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney respond?

Rooney said in a statement that she was pleased, adding: “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.”

Vardy said she was “extremely sad and disappointed”.

“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.”

Picture: PA Wire/Yui Mok

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