Coleen Rooney’s Instagram post about the suspected source of leaks of private information in the so-called “Wagatha Christie” row “clearly identified” Rebekah Vardy as having “secretly informed the Sun newspaper of Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories”, a judge ruled on Friday.
In a victory for Vardy that sets the parameters for her libel action, Mr Justice Warby rejected the contention that the post – which concluded “It’s ……………. Rebekah Vardy’s account” – merely meant that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” her, as Rooney’s lawyers had argued.
Instead, he largely agreed with Vardy’s lawyers, saying that the message would be read by an “ordinary reader” as a clear allegation that she personally had “frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account”.
Rooney was ordered to pay costs of just under £23,000. To win the case, she will now have to show that Vardy was herself responsible for the leaks.
Warby wrote: “The whole purpose of the post, on the face of it, is to identify publicly the someone, the person whom Ms Rooney has ‘clearly’ identified as being guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust that she alleges. The ordinary reader would not regard the post as merely telling him or her who it is that Ms Rooney suspects, or as simply raising Ms Vardy’s guilt as no more than one possibility, among others.”
Warby’s ruling is the first key ruling in the case over Rooney’s post, which set off social media hysteria when it was published last year and earned Rooney the nickname “Wagatha Christie”. Rooney, 34, is married to the former England captain Wayne Rooney, and Vardy, 38, to Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.
Rooney said she had spent five months slowly reducing the number of people who could see her updates on Instagram stories until only Vardy’s account remained. Rooney then posted a fictitious announcement on Instagram reporting that the basement of her new house had been flooded.
When the flood appeared as a news story in the Sun, she published her now-infamous Instagram post. Her lawyers had argued that her post should be read to mean that someone with access to Vardy’s account, possibly including an agent or PR aide, was behind the leaks.
Rooney’s spokesman said on Friday that the decision “changes nothing”, and that Rooney was pleased Vardy would have to “file her reply to the defence, on oath” about the leaked stories. He added: “Coleen is keen to see progress made on the real issues, beginning with what Rebekah has to tell the court.”
But Matthew Dando, a partner at the media law firm Wiggin LLP, 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. “It won’t be enough to show that the leak simply came from her account or people operating it.”
In her formal libel claim to the court, Vardy’s lawyers said she received vicious threats and abuse because of Rooney’s accusations. She consequently suffered “extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment”. The offensive insults, it was said, made Vardy “feel suicidal”.
The meaning of the concluding phrase of the post, “It’s ……………. Rebekah Vardy’s account”, was at the heart of Warby’s ruling on Friday. He wrote that the post “tells a story”, which is “one of careful investigation, and builds to a revelation”, adding that the post “takes the form of a ‘whodunnit’”.
Rooney’s lawyers had claimed that the weight of the conclusion of the post was diluted by the multiple ellipses and use of the word “account”. But Warby dismissed that view. “The element of suspense introduced by the multiple dots seems to me designed to raise expectations of a dramatic revelation,” he wrote. “It would be a poor denouement if all that was being said was that the named individual was to be suspected of the wrongdoing, but it might be someone else.”
Vardy and Rooney have agreed a “stay” of proceedings until February, the court heard, to allow “one final attempt to resolve the matter without the need for a full trial”.