Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy: Could it all boil down to a pound of flesh?
It may have been Rebekah Vardy's account... but was it Rebekah Vardy? The entire Coleen Rooney v Rebekah Vardy libel case could boil down to a technicality.
It’s been almost three years since Coleen Rooney essentially broke the internet with an ellipsis, but she and Rebekah Vardy are still embroiled in a nasty legal battle – one which will see the two women step into the High Court this week.
WAG wars dominated the tabloids in the early noughties, but it’s been many a year since we’ve seen a disagreement akin to the so-called “Wagatha Christie” debacle. One of modern day’s most notorious whodunnit cases, it has all the makings of a hit soap storyline – celebrity, betrayal, amateur detective work. Not to mention the big social media reveal.
Dating all the way back to October 9 2019, the very public quarrel quickly became one of the year’s most defining pop-culture moments and there are few people who haven’t heard tell of the infamous fallout by now. However, with the case now set to reach the High Court this week, it might be time to refresh the details. So, for those of you who need a reminder…
In October 2019, Coleen – wife of Wayne Rooney, England’s top scorer – took to Twitter to accuse Rebekah – wife of fellow footballer, Jamie Vardy – of leaking stories to the press about her.
Confident that it could only have been Rebekah who was responsible for speaking to the media, Coleen had come to such a conclusion after doing some unofficial investigative work on her social media.
This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it…… pic.twitter.com/0YqJAoXuK1
— Coleen Rooney (@ColeenRoo) October 9, 2019
Suspicious that someone in her inner circle had been sharing intimate details with journalists, she set a trap to try and catch the perpetrator – posting a number of false stories about herself to Instagram and setting it so that only Rebekah’s account could see them. Three of those stories subsequently appeared in The Sun newspaper. Coleen then shared her findings on Twitter, thus blacklisting Vardy and earning herself the title, “Wagatha Christie”.
Shortly after Rooney’s accusation, Vardy – who was heavily pregnant at the time – posted a response, vehemently denying the allegations. “I’m not being funny but I don’t need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you?” she questioned, adding that she was “so upset” Rooney had chosen to handle the matter publicly and would be seeking legal advice.
The legal side
Eight months after the fact, it emerged that Vardy had launched a £1 million High Court defamation lawsuit against Rooney. The first stage of the libel action began in November 2020, with a victory for Vardy.
Mr Justice Warby set the parameters for the case, rejecting the contention that Rooney’s post merely meant that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect her” and instead largely agreed with Vardy’s lawyers in saying that the message would be read by an “ordinary reader” as a clear allegation that Vardy had “frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account”. Rooney was also ordered to pay Vardy almost £23,000 in court costs. Sky News reports that total legal costs have been estimated at over £400,000 on each side.
The case was back in the High Court again that June as Vardy’s lawyers applied to strike out parts of Rooney’s defence ahead of the libel trial. The court heard how peace talks between the two apparently “broke down during mediation” and Vardy’s legal team argued that their client had “suffered widespread abuse and hostility as a result of the post”. They also stated that her children had been “abused at school” over the fallout.
Both sides claimed partial victory in July as Mrs Justice Steyn ruled on which arguments Rooney could keep in her defence.
Was it… Rebekah Vardy’s account?
Vardy has always denied being the leaker, pointing out that several people had access to her account at the time. A written statement to the court last April suggested that Caroline Watt, Rebekah’s former agent, was “the source of the leak” though Mrs Vardy “did not authorise or condone her”.
Earlier this year, Rooney suffered a serious setback in her legal battle against Vardy when a high court judge refused to grant permission to add Watt to proceedings. According to Coleen’s team, Ms Watt was supposedly in cahoots with Vardy to leak stories to The Sun, however, Mrs Justice Steyn refused the request on the basis that the application had been made too late and would delay the trial otherwise. This means that the current trial now hinges on whether Rooney can prove that it was Vardy herself who leaked the stories to the press and not another person acting on her behalf.
The Guardian reports that the judge did agree to let Rooney’s lawyers search WhatsApp messages between Vardy and Watt and to make a request to Instagram for relevant data – unfortunately, Watt’s phone had “regrettably” fallen into the North Sea before further information could be extracted from it for the case.
A separate set of potentially relevant WhatsApp messages held by Vardy was backed up by her IT expert but the court heard that they had, unfortunately, “forgotten the password”. The laptop Vardy used during the relevant period is no longer working. Watt’s Twitter account has also been deleted. Jamie Vardy himself lost access to his WhatsApp messages, with the court informed that they had been hacked.
Rooney’s legal team maintain that they are being denied a fair trial due to lack of evidence… but with the libel trial due to get underway at the High Court in London this week, her team has instead built a case “based on inference”, as The Guardian puts it. Mark Stephens QC, a leading media lawyer at Howard Kennedy, told The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast that the case was “almost unique in libel history, because it’s untrammelled by evidence”.
“Destroying evidence deliberately is a very serious matter. But there’s no suggestion that that happened. It does seem there was an unfortunate series of events which has meant this case can’t be properly proved,” he continued.
As previously mentioned, Mr Justice Warby already established that the libel trial will be fought on the basis that Vardy was the one who was personally responsible for the leak, which means that she could get off on a pound of flesh-esque clause – a phrase stemming from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, where Shylock is entitled to a pound of flesh, but is forbidden from shedding any blood in obtaining it. “I think that Vardy wins this on a technicality because there’s no evidence that Coleen has that can prove it,” Stephens commented.
Scheduled to last a total of six days, a judgement on the case isn’t expected until later in the week.