The Wagatha Christie libel case: a timeline
Rebekah Vardy loses libel case against Coleen Rooney after ‘modern-day whodunnit’ trial
Rebekah Vardy has lost her libel claim against Coleen Rooney, bringing an end to the so-called “Wagatha Christie” trial.
In the judgement, released online on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website, Mrs Justice Steyn said it was “likely” that Vardy’s then-agent, Caroline Watt, “undertook the direct act” of passing the information to The Sun newspaper.
“Nonetheless,” the ruling continued, “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.”
Mrs Justice Steyn said she accepted that Rooney’s post, in which she accused Vardy of leaking stories to a tabloid newspaper, was “substantially true” and “a matter of public interest” due to “the undesirable practice of information (in the nature of mere gossip) about celebrities’ private lives being disclosed to the press by trusted individuals”.
However, the legal costs for each side are expected to be upwards of £1m, and even the winner will only recover about 70% of their legal bill, leaving them with around £300,000 still to pay, media lawyer, Jonathan Coad, told the BBC.
The two women, who became friends through their footballer husbands, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy, were at loggerheads over a series of leaks to The Sun.
The case was “a modern-day whodunnit”, said Bethany Minelle at Sky News, “complete with warring celebrities, alleged betrayal, social media traction and perhaps the most famous ellipses of the last century”.
Here is how it all began.
9 October 2019
Rooney “set the internet ablaze” with a Twitter post accusing Vardy of repeatedly leaking private information about her to The Sun, reported the i newspaper. She said that “for a few years” one of her private Instagram account followers had been sharing details of her posts with the tabloid. Suspecting who it was, she blocked all her other followers and posted a series of false stories over a few months, including that her basement had flooded, to see if they would make their way into the newspaper. “And you know what, they did!” she wrote. “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. It’s… Rebekah Vardy.”
Later in the day, Vardy issued a public statement to Rooney after speaking to her on the phone. She denied being the leaker and said that over the years “various people” had accessed her Instagram account. “I’m not being funny, but I don’t need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you?” she wrote. She added that she was “so upset” Rooney had made a public announcement rather than speak to her directly.
The “careful sting operation earned Mrs Rooney the sobriquet ‘Wagatha Christie’”, said the i, and “like all the best whodunnits”, the dispute would finally make its way to a court of law.
23 June 2020
Eight months on from the original tweet, it emerged that Vardy had launched a £1m High Court defamation lawsuit against Rooney over the accusations. “The pair are set to clash in court in what could be the most explosive celebrity case of all time,” wrote the Daily Mirror at the time.
20 November 2020
The first stage of the libel action began as Mr Justice Warby set the parameters for the case. In what The Guardian called “a victory for Vardy”, the judge largely agreed that an “ordinary reader” would see Rooney’s post as an allegation that Vardy personally had “frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account”.
Matthew Dando, a partner at the media law firm Wiggin, called the result a “disaster” for Rooney. “This makes it much harder for Coleen to prove the truth of the allegation because she will have to show that it was Rebekah herself who was leaking the stories,” he said. Rooney was also ordered to pay Vardy almost £23,000 in court costs.
18 June 2021
The case was back in the High Court again, as Vardy’s lawyers applied to strike out parts of Rooney’s defence in advance of the libel trial.
The court “heard how peace talks between the warring WAGs broke down during mediation”, said the Daily Mail. Vardy’s team argued that despite the “highly entertaining stories in the media referring to Wagatha Christie”, their client had “suffered widespread abuse and hostility as a result of the post for a long period and her children were also abused at school”.
7 July 2021
Both sides claimed partial victory as Mrs Justice Steyn ruled on which arguments Rooney could keep in her defence. She dismissed an argument that Vardy had insisted on sitting next to Rooney in the 2016 European Championship match between England and Wales “to guarantee her appearance in the media”.
However, she ruled that Rooney could try to prove that Vardy was behind a “Secret Wag” diary column in The Sun on Sunday, which “included details of players’ alleged affairs and drug use”, and was published up until October 2019 when Rooney announced the result of her “detective work”, said The Times.
Mrs Justice Steyn said the alleged close relationship between Vardy and the tabloid newspaper was “one of the building blocks” of Rooney’s defence.
8 February 2022
“Explosive messages” were read out as the saga returned to the High Court in February, reported the Liverpool Echo. Rooney requested that the judge add Vardy’s former agent, Watt, to the legal proceedings.
After Rooney tweeted that somebody was “betraying” her with leaks to The Sun, Watt allegedly sent a private WhatsApp message to Vardy with a laughing face emoji, saying: “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me.”
In other messages, Vardy allegedly referred to Rooney as a “nasty bitch” and “a c***”, and said she “would love to leak those posts x”. However, Vardy’s lawyer said the messages were “selective”, and that the exchange in full had “precisely the opposite effect”.
However, the court heard that Watt accidentally dropped her phone into the sea while on a boat trip off the British coast, losing all its contents, shortly after Rooney’s lawyers asked to search the device.
The judge later refused Rooney’s request to add Watt to proceedings, saying it had come too late and would delay the main trial.
29 April 2022
Vardy issued a new statement “accepting the likelihood that her publicist had leaked the Rooney stories – but without, she maintained, any authorisation from herself”, reported Nick Greenslade in The Sunday Times. Yet, Rooney still has to prove that it was Vardy herself who was the “conduit to The Sun”, he said.
10 May 2022
Vardy and Rooney came face to face in court as their libel trial kicked off at the Royal Courts of Justice in London before Mrs Justice Steyn.
There had been a “widespread and significant destruction or loss of evidence”, Rooney's barrister told the court, which heard that Vardy's agent, Watt, lost her phone in the North Sea after it was hit by a wave before Rooney’s team could see WhatsApp messages that could potentially help her case.
“What terrible luck,” said David Sherborne, Rooney’s barrister.
12 May 2022
Vardy appeared to accept that her agent leaked information from Rooney's private Instagram account to a newspaper, but added: “I didn’t think she was passing on any new information.”
16 May 2022
Rooney described messages Vardy and her agent Watt exchanged about her as “evil”.
The court had heard the pair had allegedly called Rooney “attention seeking” and “nasty”. However, Vardy's barrister claimed that she had been referring to someone else.
17 May 2022
The court heard that Wayne Rooney was asked by his then England manager, Roy Hodgson, to ask his teammate Jamie Vardy to get his wife to “calm down”.
England’s all-time record goalscorer said he “carried out that instruction” to have a word with his teammate but he insisted that it was Mr Vardy’s business if the message was relayed to his wife.
The court heard that Rooney had watched her become “a different mother” and “a different wife”, noted ITV News.
19 May 2022
On the final day of the trial, Rooney’s lawyer told the High Court that Vardy was a “highly unreliable witness”. As Sherborne told the court that Vardy lied under oath and deleted evidence, she walked out of the courtroom.
20 May 2022
A 313-page bundle of evidence was released, including pictures from Rooney’s Instagram account and screenshots where Vardy complained to her husband Jamie Vardy that she was being made a “scapegoat” during Euro 2016, reported the Evening Standard.
29 July 2022
Vardy loses her High Court libel case against Rooney, bringing the so-called Wagatha Christie trial to an end.