By Jess Glass and Sian Harrison, PA
Rebekah Vardy has said she is “devastated” by the ruling in the “Wagatha Christie” UK High Court libel claim she brought against Coleen Rooney.
In a viral social media post in October 2019, Mrs Rooney, 36, said she had carried out a months-long “sting operation” and accused Mrs Vardy, 40, of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the press.
The wife of former England footballer Wayne Rooney publicly claimed Mrs Vardy’s account was the source behind three stories in The Sun newspaper featuring fake details she had posted on her private Instagram stories.
Mrs Vardy, who is married to Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, denied leaking stories to the media and sued her fellow footballer’s wife for libel, while Mrs Rooney defended the claim on the basis that her post was “substantially true”.
In a much-anticipated ruling on Friday, Mrs Justice Steyn found in Mrs Rooney’s favour and dismissed the claim against her.
After the judgment, Mrs Vardy thanked her supporters and said she was “extremely sad and disappointed at the decision that the judge has reached”.
She continued: “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 judgment, she got it wrong and this is something I cannot accept.”
The TV personality reiterated that she and her family – including her then unborn baby – were sent “vile abuse” after the viral post and during the trial.
“Please can the people who have been abusing me and my family now stop. The case is over,” she added.
In her own statement following the judgment, Mrs Rooney welcomed her victory and said she had “no ill-will” towards Mrs Vardy.
She said: “It was not a case I ever sought or wanted. I never believed it 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.
“Both before and after my social media posts in October 2019, I made every effort to avoid the need for such a drawn-out and public court case.
“All my attempts to do so were knocked back by Mrs Vardy.”
Finding in favour of Mrs Rooney, Mrs Justice Steyn said it was “likely” that Mrs Vardy’s agent at the time, Caroline Watt, “undertook the direct act” of passing the information to The Sun.
But she added: “Nonetheless, the evidence … clearly shows, in my view, that Mrs Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots of Mrs Rooney’s posts, drawing attention to items of potential interest to the press, and answering additional queries raised by the press via Ms Watt.”
During the trial, the two women each gave evidence, as did Mr Rooney, also 36, who played for Everton and Manchester United as well as England.
In her 76-page judgment, Mrs Justice Steyn said Mrs Vardy’s evidence was “manifestly inconsistent” with contemporaneous documentary evidence on “many occasions”.
The judge added: “I find that it is, unfortunately, necessary to treat Mrs Vardy’s evidence with very considerable caution.”
Mrs Justice Steyn also found it was “likely” that Mrs Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone into the North Sea shortly after it was ordered to be searched.
Mrs Vardy also chose not to call Ms Watt to give evidence partly because she knew the agent’s evidence “would be shown to be untrue”, the judge ruled.
Mrs Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, previously argued that Mrs Vardy had a “habitual and established practice” of leaking information about those she knew – through Ms Watt – to The Sun.
Mrs Justice Steyn said in her ruling: “In my judgment, the conclusions that I have reached as to the extent to which the claimant engaged in disclosing to The Sun information to which she only had access as a permitted follower of an Instagram account which she knew, and Mrs Rooney repeatedly asserted, was private, suffice to show the single meaning is substantially true.”
In the first ruling in the case in November 2020, then-Mr Justice Warby found the viral post had “clearly identified” Mrs Vardy as being “guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust”.
He also found that an ordinary reader would take the post as claiming Mrs Vardy had “regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Mrs Rooney’s private posts and stories”.
The libel battle came after Mrs Rooney publicly claimed that an account behind three fake stories in The Sun that she had posted on her personal Instagram account was Mrs Vardy’s.
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.”
It is believed the total legal costs of the case will be in the region of £3 million, most of which will now be borne by Mrs Vardy.