Coleen Rooney wins Wagatha Christie court battle

LONDON (AP) – In a legal showdown between soccer spouses that has mixed celebrities, social media and amateur detectives, a judge has ruled the whodunnit.

Judge Karen Steyn on Friday acquitted Coleen Rooney of defaming Rebekah Vardy by alleging that Vardy leaked her private social media posts to the tabloids.

In a crushing blow to Vardy, who launched the defamation lawsuit to defend her reputation, the judge said Rooney’s allegation was “essentially true.” Steyn said it was likely Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, leaked Rooney’s private information to The Sun newspaper and that “Mrs. Vardy knew of this behavior and condoned it.”

Vardy, who is suing after Rooney accused her of sharing private Instagram content with The Sun in 2019, said she was “extremely saddened and disappointed by the decision”.

Rooney said she was happy with the verdict but added that “it wasn’t a case that I ever wanted or wanted.”

“I never believed that in a time of need for so many people it should have gone to court at such a cost when the money could have been much better spent helping others,” she said in a statement.

The case, heard in the High Court in May, caused a media sensation. The women are celebrities themselves, and both are married to famous footballers: Vardy to Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy, Rooney to former Manchester United and England star Wayne Rooney.

Then there was the amateur detective work that led to Rooney’s indictment. Rooney, 36, said she purposely posted fake stories on Instagram to find out who was leaking her private information to the press. The stories – including one about a fictional basement flood at the Rooney home and another in which Coleen Rooney tried to revive her television career – duly appeared in The Sun.

Rooney said she blocked all accounts from seeing her Instagram Stories except for what she suspected was the leaker. In an October 2019 social media post to nearly 2 million followers, she revealed, “It’s ……………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

Rooney was nicknamed “Wagatha Christie,” a play on the slang term “WAG” — wives and girlfriends of soccer stars — and the name of crime writer Agatha Christie.

Vardy, 40, strenuously denied the leak and was suing for defamation “to prove her innocence and to justify her reputation,” her attorney Hugh Tomlinson said.

The case sparked a media frenzy during the seven-day hearings, as the two women went to court alongside their husbands, despite being urged by judges and legal experts to reach an agreement. The case has reportedly cost each side more than £1million ($1.2million) in legal fees.

Both women testified at the trial, with Vardy breaking down in tears on several occasions. The judge was scathing about Vardy’s credibility as a witness, saying some of her evidence was “manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, evasive or implausible.” Rooney, on the other hand, is “honest and reliable,” the judge said.

Vardy’s agent gave no statement. Vardy’s attorneys said Watt’s health was too weak for her to comment. Watt’s phone, which was being sought by Rooney’s lawyers as evidence, is said to have fallen in the North Sea.

The judge found the likelihood that it was an accident was “low.”

Media lawyer Jonathan Coad told the BBC the outcome was “an absolute disaster” for Vardy, who was “effectively branded a liar”.

Although the case was treated as an entertaining spectacle by the media and much of the public, the judge determined that it had a human cost.

She said Vardy was subjected to “vile insults” from members of the public following Rooney’s post, “including messages making her, her family and even her then-unborn baby want to get sick in the most horrible way.”

“Nothing that Ms. Vardy was accused of, nor the results of this verdict, warrants or excuses exposing her or her family or anyone else involved in this case to such viciousness,” Steyn said.

Vardy indicated she will not appeal.

“Please can the people who abused me and my family stop now,” she said. “The case is closed.”

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

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