LONDON (AP) — In a legal battle between soccer husbands that mixed celebrities, social media and amateur sleuthing, a judge ruled a whodunnit.
Judge Karen Steyn on Friday acquitted Coleen Rooney of defamation against Rebecca Vardy, alleging that Vardy leaked her private social media posts to the tabloid press.
In a crushing blow for Vardy, who launched a defamation case to protect his reputation, the judge said Rooney’s accusation was “largely true”. Steyn said it was likely that Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, had passed Rooney’s personal information to The sun newspaper, and that “Mrs. Vardy knew and approved of this behaviour.”
Vardy, who sued after Rooney accused her in 2019 of sharing personal content on Instagram with The sunsaid she was “extremely saddened and disappointed by the decision.”
Rooney said she was pleased with the sentence, but added that “this is not a case I ever sought or wanted.”
“I have never believed that such a cost should have come to court at a time of hardship for so many people when the money could be much better spent helping others,” she said in a statement.
The case, heard in the Supreme Court in May, was a media sensation. The women are celebrities in their own right 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 deliberately posted fake stories on Instagram to find out who was leaking her personal information to the press. The stories – including one about a fictitious flood in the basement of Rooney’s house and another reporting that Coleen Rooney is trying to revive her TV career – duly appeared in The sun.
Rooney said she blocked all accounts so they couldn’t see her Instagram stories, except for the one she suspected was leaked. In an October 2019 social media post to almost 2 million followers, she revealed: “This is the account of ……………. Rebecca Vardy.”
Rooney was dubbed “Wagatta Christie”, a play on the slang term “WAG” – wives and girlfriends of football stars – and the name of crime author Agatha Christie.
Vardy, 40, has strongly denied leaking information and is suing for defamation “to prove her innocence and protect her reputation”, said her lawyer Hugh Tomlinson.
The case sparked a media frenzy during seven days of hearings as the two women went to court alongside their husbands despite being urged by judges and legal experts to plead guilty. The case has reportedly cost each side more than 1 million pounds ($1.2 million) in legal fees.
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Both women testified during the trial, with Vardy breaking down in tears several times. The judge was scathing about Vardy’s credibility as a witness, saying some of her evidence was “manifestly inconsistent with the documentary evidence of the time, evasive or implausible”. Rooney, by contrast, was “honest and trustworthy”, the judge said.
Vardy’s agent did not testify. Vardy’s lawyers said Watt’s health was too fragile for her to take the position. Watt’s phone, which was sought by Rooney’s lawyers as evidence, has reportedly fallen into the North Sea.
The judge noted that the chances of this being an accident were “slim”.
Media lawyer Jonathan Coad told the BBC the result was an “absolute disaster” for Vardy, who had “effectively been branded a liar”.
Although the case was treated by the media and much of the public as an entertaining spectacle, the judge noted that there was a human cost.
She said Vardy had faced “vile abuse” from members of the public following Rooney’s post, “including messages wishing her, her family and even her then-unborn baby ill in the most horrible way”.
“Nothing that Ms. Vardy has been charged with, nor any of the findings in this judgment, provides any justification or excuse for the subjection of her or her family, or anyone else involved in this a case of such malice,” Stein said.
Vardy has indicated he will not appeal.
“Please can the people who have been abusing me and my family stop now,” she said. “Case closed.”
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