Reality television star Rebekah Vardy lost her libel claim against TV personality Coleen Rooney at London’s High Court on Friday.
The judge ruled in favour of Rooney, ending a dramatic case that featured two footballer’s wives at war, a cast of international celebrities and generated global headlines and tabloid newspaper intrigue.
The high-profile claim was brought by Vardy, who is married to Leicester City player Jamie Vardy, against Rooney, wife of Wayne Rooney, a former Manchester United and England captain.
Vardy had sought to clear her name after Rooney ran a “sting operation” three years ago to establish the source of leaks from her private Instagram account. In October 2019 Rooney accused Vardy of leaking stories about her private life to The Sun newspaper.
In her ruling Mrs Justice Steyn found that on the balance of probability Vardy had leaked the story about Rooney to the press.
The trial — dubbed “Wagatha Christie” — lasted seven days, generating a media circus with barristers poring over pages of WhatsApp exchanges and debating the meaning of emojis used in them.
The case is estimated to have cost millions of pounds in legal fees and has highlighted the use of London’s courts and England’s libel laws by the rich and powerful to settle their personal battles, as well as the large gains to be made by defamation lawyers, said legal experts.
It also underlines the threat to social media users from libel claims, which target publishers of information whether they are newspapers or individuals on Twitter.
During the trial, Vardy said the allegation was untrue and defamatory, forcing Rooney to prove her claim was true, which lawyers have said was a difficult challenge to meet. Rooney also claimed that it was in the public interest to expose the source of the tabloid leaks.
Rooney set up an elaborate trap on Instagram by posting a series of fake stories and slowly restricting the number of followers that could see them until only Vardy was left, then waiting to see if the stories appeared in the press.
The judge said Vardy, along with her agent Caroline Watt, was “party to the disclosure to The Sun” of fake stories including, for example, one about Rooney making a trip to Mexico for a “gender selection” procedure having a baby girl, and a piece about her basement flooding.
Mrs Justice Steyn said it was “likely” that Watt “undertook the direct act” of passing stories to the Sun but that Vardy “knew and condoned” of the conduct.
Vardy could now be forced to pay Rooney’s legal costs, due to the “loser pays” rule in English civil litigation. The final costs will be determined at a later hearing.
Alex Vakil, media partner at RPC, said Vardy was “subjected to three days of cross-examination which touched on various aspects of her private life”.
He added: “Had she succeeded, this ordeal may have been worth it. Instead [she] is left to settle what is likely to be a monstrous legal costs bill.”
Coleen Rooney said in a statement that she was “pleased” the ruling went in her favour but that she “never believed” the case should have gone to court “at such expense in times of hardship for so many people when the money could have been far better spent helping others”.