'Wag wars': Court hears of Rooney's 'sting operation' against 'villain' Vardy

19 November 2020, 14:18

Coleen Rooney (left) and Rebekah Vardy
Coleen Rooney (left) and Rebekah Vardy. Picture: PA

Coleen Rooney's "sting operation" to find out the person leaking personal stories saw the "finger being pointed" at Rebekah Vardy as "the villain," the High Court has heard.

The high-profile libel battle against Mrs Rooney, which had its first hearing on Thursday, is the latest in the widely reported drama dubbed "wag wars".

It began in October last year when Mrs Rooney, 34, accused Mrs Vardy of leaking stories about her private life to the media - with Mrs Rooney swiftly dubbed "Wagatha Christie" on social media for her apparent sleuthing work.

The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney claimed fellow footballer's wife Mrs Vardy, 38, shared stories she had posted on her personal Instagram account.

Mrs Rooney wrote: "For a few years now someone who I trusted to follow me on my personal Instagram account has been consistently informing The Sun newspaper of my private posts and stories."

She added that she blocked everyone apart from an Instagram page belonging to Mrs Vardy from seeing her Instagram stories, and then "posted a series of false stories to see if they made their way into The Sun" over the space of five months.

Mrs Rooney dramatically added: "I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them.

"It's ................ Rebekah Vardy's account."

Mrs Vardy - who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy - has denied the accusations and is suing Mrs Rooney for damages for libel.

At a preliminary hearing in London, Mr Justice Warby was asked to determine the "natural and ordinary" meaning of Mrs Rooney's posts on Instagram and Twitter which accused Mrs Vardy of leaking the stories.

Mrs Vardy's lawyers argue that the meaning of Mrs Rooney's posts was that she had "consistently and repeatedly betrayed the defendant's trust over several years by leaking the defendant's private and personal Instagram posts and stories for publication in The Sun".

In her written claim filed with the court, Mrs Vardy said she had worried she would lose her baby because of the stress as she was pregnant at the time.

She "suffered extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment as a result of the publication of the post and the events which followed", her lawyers allege.

Mrs Vardy also claims she "continues to suffer severe and extreme hostility and abuse as a result of the post", including "a number of highly distressing publications on Twitter" in June falsely alleging she was a new suspect identified in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Speaking in court, Mrs Vardy's barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said both his client and Mrs Rooney's high-profile marriages had led to the dispute being "trivialised", but stressed "the impact on Mrs Vardy was not trivial".

He said the Instagram post was an "untrue and unjustified defamatory attack" which was "published and republished to millions of people".

This ""leaves the reasonable reader in no doubt that the defendant is accusing the claimant of consistently and repeatedly betraying her trust over several years [...]

"In fact, she did nothing wrong. Whatever leaks there were did not come from her."

Mr Tomlinson then argued that the post featured "a build-up to the 'big reveal' of the identity of the person responsible [...]

"The description of the defendant's detective work makes it clear that the claimant is being said to be responsible for the leaking of the three specific stories mentioned.

"The person is Rebekah Vardy, the finger is being pointed at her, as the villain, the person, the someone, the one person."

Mrs Rooney, however, claims Mrs Vardy "was in fact responsible for consistently passing on information about the defendant's private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun".

She also alleges "this was part of the claimant's (Mrs Vardy's) established history and habitual practice of providing private information to journalists and the press".

Her representation, David Sherborne, said in written submissions: "It is true that the claimant was responsible for consistently passing on information about the defendant's private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun, and that this was part of her history and practice of providing private information to the press, especially The Sun, with whom she had a very close relationship [...]

"The defendant was so concerned that she even posted a number of fake stories on her private Instagram account in order to discover where the leak was coming from."

Mr Sherborne said his client had conducted the "sting operation" and had "deliberately limited the accessibility to this private account and the sting operation stories" to just Mrs Vardy.

"The fact that these sting operation stories also then appeared in The Sun, after access to her private account was limited to just the @beckyvardy account, is the reason why the defendant published the post which is the subject of this claim.

"The impression the reader would take away would be the essential message, that it was Rebekah Vardy's account that was the source of private stories about the defendant appearing in The Sun - not Rebekah Vardy herself.

"The impression the post gives the ordinary reader stops short of guilt.

"Mrs Rooney intends to defend these words as true in whatever meaning."

Mr Justice Warby said he would give his ruling on Friday afternoon.

Neither woman attended court for the hearing, and both parties are said to have agreed for a "stay" of proceedings until February so there could be "one final attempt to resolve the matter without the need for a full trial," according to Mr Tomlinson.