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'Wagatha Christie’ A lesson in libel for us all?

1st Oct 2022 | Dispute Resolution
Colleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy

One of the most high-profile rulings of this summer was the so-called ‘Wagatha Christie’ case. Billed as a ‘Battle of the footballer’s wives’ between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, the claim arose after Mrs Rooney conducted a sting operation to find out who was allegedly leaking stories about her to The Sun newspaper.

Rooney planted three false stories on her private Instagram account, all of which were printed leading Mrs Rooney to publicly claim that ‘just one person’ had viewed the stories on her private account, tweeting: ‘it’s……Rebekah Vardy’s account’. Vardy claimed that the tweet caused her to suffer ‘very serious harm to her reputation’ and issued a libel claim.

The court had to determine two points:

1)     Whether the words published by Mrs Rooney caused (or were likely to cause) serious harm to Mrs Vardy’s reputation; and, if so

2)     Whether Mrs Rooney had a truth and/or a public interest defence.

During the seven-day trial, there was no dispute that the words were capable of being defamatory. The question was therefore if Mrs Rooney had a valid defence to the defamatory statement.

Was the statement substantially true?

Rooney alleged that Vardy had a ‘habitual and established practice’ of leaking information to The Sun and that the statement was true. Truth is an absolute defence to a defamation claim, meaning that Mrs Vardy would not be entitled to recover damages if Mrs Rooney’s statement were true.

The judge found that it was likely that Mrs Vardy’s agent, Ms Watt passed information to The Sun newspaper and that Mrs Vardy ‘was party to the disclosure to The Sun’ and ‘knew of and condoned this behaviour’. The judge ruled that Mrs Vardy was actively engaged in the leaks by directing Ms Watt to the Instagram account, sending her screenshots and answering queries raised by the press.

As truth is an absolute defence to a libel claim, the judge’s finding meant that Mrs Vardy’s claim was dismissed in its entirety.


The outcome serves as a striking reminder of (amongst other things) the following:

1.      In litigation, the credibility of a lead witness is critical as is the preservation of documents. The judge found it necessary to treat Mrs Vardy’s evidence with ‘very considerable caution’, noting that her evidence was inconsistent and evasive. The judge concluded that the loss of evidence in the form of Mrs Vardy’s ‘damaged beyond repair’ laptop and Ms Watt’s lost phone in the North Sea were likely to have been deliberate acts and this further damaged her credibility.

2.      Litigation can backfire on a claimant.  Here, a case that was meant to vindicate Mrs Vardy’s reputation and set the record straight has left her facing very public judicial criticism and a substantial order for costs. The judgment marks the end of one very bitter battle and the commencement of another over costs of in the region of £3 million.  

For more information on the issues in this article or on any other dispute query, please contact Ailsa Charlton on 0191 211 7735 or email [email protected]

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