PA High Court Staff
Rebekah Vardy denied leaking stories about Coleen Rooney to the press as she started her evidence in their High Court libel battle.
In a viral social media post in October 2019, Mrs Rooney (36) said she had carried out a “sting operation” and accused Mrs Vardy (40) of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the press.
The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney was dubbed “Wagatha Christie” when she publicly claimed an account behind three fake stories she had posted on her personal Instagram account with The Sun newspaper was Mrs Vardy’s.
Mrs Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denies leaking stories to the media and is suing her fellow footballer’s wife for libel, while Mrs Rooney is defending the claim on the basis her post was “substantially true”.
In her written evidence, Mrs Vardy said she believed Mrs Rooney had made her a “scapegoat” for previous leaked stories about her marriage to Mr Rooney.
“I believe that they have, in part, done this as a way of trying to change the narrative in the press about Coleen being a doormat following her husband’s drink driving charge and the multiple allegations of cheating,” she wrote.
Going into the witness box shortly before 4pm on Tuesday, Mrs Vardy repeatedly denied leaking information to newspapers, telling the court: “I have been called a leaker and it’s not nice.”
Shortly after questioning whether Mrs Vardy respected people’s privacy, Mrs Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne then asked Mrs Vardy about an interview she gave her about a sexual encounter with singer Peter Andre.
Mr Sherborne showed what appeared to be a A3 printout of the article to Mrs Vardy in the witness box before reading the headline: “Peter’s hung like a small chipolata, shaved, slobbery, lasts five minutes.”
However, Mrs Vardy said that she was “forced into a situation by my ex-husband” to do the interview.
Mr Sherborne later asked: “Did you feel particularly strongly about the size of his manhood that it should be made public?”
Mrs Vardy replied: “It was something that I was forced to say.”
The Dancing On Ice star was also asked to explain what the acronym “FFS” meant from one of her text messages.
“I just wanted to be clear what you meant,” Mr Sherborne said.
During the hearing Mrs Vardy, wearing a smart navy dress, sat metres away from Mrs Rooney.
The pair sat in the front row of the seats in the wood-panelled courtroom with Mrs Rooney, accompanied by her husband, dressed in a black suit with a navy top with a moon boot on her left foot.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mrs Vardy’s barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said she had to bring the libel claim to “vindicate her reputation”.
He said in written submissions: “The allegation in the post was and remains false: Mrs Vardy had not leaked information about Mrs Rooney or her friends and family to The Sun newspaper from her private Instagram account.
“Mrs Rooney did not have the ‘irrefutable’ evidence that she claimed to have had: her so-called ‘careful investigation’ was nothing of the sort.
“If anyone had been leaking information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram this was not done with Mrs Vardy’s knowledge or approval.”
The barrister also said that Mrs Rooney’s alleged investigation into the leaks “was in fact a pre-determined blinkered operation with the aim of ‘outing’ Mrs Vardy”.
Mr 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.”
Summing up Mrs Rooney’s case, Mr Sherborne said it was “a detective story”.
“Like any good detective story, you never find a person standing over the body with a smoking gun,” he said, arguing there was “inference”.
He told Mrs Justice Steyn: “You do not have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, you just have to conclude that it is more likely than not that Mrs Vardy was responsible, either directly or through Ms (Caroline – Mrs Vardy’s friend and agent) Watt.”
Mr Sherborne described what he called a series of “most improbable events” that had affected the disclosure of evidence in the case from Mrs Vardy and those around her.
This included Ms 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.
He concluded: “I do wonder whether it is not just Mrs Rooney but this whole court that may all think now ‘why on earth are we here?’”
However, Mr Tomlinson said the suggestion that Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt were involved in a “conspiracy” and “campaign of deletion” in relation to evidence in the case is “completely baseless”.
He also told the court that it had not been suggested “that Mrs Vardy was anywhere near the North Sea at the time” Ms Watt’s phone fell into the water, nor that she “knew anything about it”.
Mrs Rooney is defending the claim on the basis of truth and public interest.
It is expected that both Mr and Mrs Rooney will provide evidence, as well as Mr Rooney’s cousin and Mrs Rooney’s brother.
The court heard that both women have spent “hundreds of thousands of pounds” on the case so far, with the total costs of the case expected to be at least £2 million.
The fake stories Mrs Rooney planted on her Instagram during the sting operation featured her travelling to Mexico for a “gender selection” procedure, her planning to return to TV, and the basement flooding at her home.
In the post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, she wrote: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them.
“It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”