LONDON (AP) — In a legal showdown between soccer spouses that has mixed celebrities, social media and amateur investigation, a judge has ruled who was not at fault.
Judge Karen Steyn on Friday acquitted Coleen Rooney of defaming Rebekah Vardy by claiming that Vardy had leaked her private social media posts to the tabloid press.
The judge said in a written ruling that Rooney’s accusation was “substantially true.” Steyn said it was likely that Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, had passed private information to The Sun newspaper, and that “Mrs Vardy knew and tolerated this behaviour”.
Vardy sued after Rooney accused her in 2019 of sharing private Instagram content with The Sun.
The case, heard in the High 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 Instagram stories to find out who was passing his private information to the press. The stories, including one about a fictional flood in the Rooneys’ basement and another reporting that Coleen Rooney was trying to revive her television career, duly appeared in The Sun.
Rooney said he had blocked all accounts from viewing his Instagram stories except the one he suspected was the leaker. In an October 2019 social media post to nearly 2 million followers, she revealed, “It’s the …………….. Rebekah Vardy account.”
Rooney was nicknamed “Wagatha Christie,” a play on the slang term “WAG” (wives and girlfriends of football stars) and the name of crime perpetrator Agatha Christie.
Vardy, 40, strongly denied the leak and sued for defamation “to establish his innocence and vindicate his reputation,” his attorney Hugh Tomlinson said.
The case sparked a media frenzy for seven days of hearings as the two women went to court, along with their husbands, despite urging them to settle by judges and legal experts. The case has reportedly cost each side more than 1 million pounds ($1.2 million) in legal fees.
Both women testified during the trial, and Vardy broke down in tears several times. The judge was scathing about Vardy’s credibility as a witness, saying some of his evidence was “manifestly inconsistent with contemporary documentary evidence, evasive or implausible.” Rooney, on the other hand, was “honest and trustworthy,” the judge said.
Vardy’s agent gave no evidence. Vardy’s attorneys said Watt’s health was too fragile for her to take the stand. Watt’s phone, which was sought by Rooney’s lawyers as evidence, was reported to have fallen into the North Sea.
The judge noted that the chances of it being an accident were “few.”
Although the case was treated by the media and much of the public as an entertaining spectacle, the judge noted that it had a human cost.
He said Vardy had faced “vile abuse” after Rooney’s post, “including messages wishing her, her family and even her unborn baby sick in the most dire terms.”
“Nothing that Ms. Vardy has been charged with, nor any of the findings in this trial, provides any justification or excuse for subjecting her or her family, or anyone else involved in this case, to such vitriol,” Stein said.