- Rebekah Vardy has brought a libel action against Coleen Rooney as ‘last resort’
- Mrs Rooney accused her rival of leaking stories from her Instagram to the press
- Mrs Vardy says the High Court action is ‘a last resort to vindicate her reputation’
The War of the Wags reached the High Court yesterday with Rebekah Vardy claiming she continues to suffer hostility and abuse after being branded the villain in the saga.
Mrs Vardy, wife of former England striker Jamie Vardy, has brought a libel action against Coleen Rooney ‘as a last resort to vindicate her reputation’.
The court case comes a year after Mrs Rooney, wife of ex-England captain Wayne Rooney, accused her rival of leaking stories from her private Instagram account to a newspaper following a ‘sting operation’ that earned her the nickname Wagatha Christie.
Mrs Rooney, 34, planted fake stories on social media but gradually restricted who could see them. When some appeared in the media, she claimed in an online post that these had been visible only to Mrs Vardy’s Instagram account.
It sparked a bitter rift between the former friends and led to Mrs Vardy, 38, receiving death and blackmail threats, court papers show.
Mrs Vardy, who was seven months pregnant, immediately denied being to blame and said the incident left her fearing she would suffer a miscarriage.
She is suing Mrs Rooney, claiming aggravated damages, and is seeking an injunction preventing her repeating the allegations.
Mrs Rooney’s legal team said she stands by her allegation but had pointed the finger at Mrs Vardy’s account, not the Wag herself. The judge has been asked to rule on the issue.
In the weeks and months after Mrs Rooney’s accusatory post, Mrs Vardy was on the receiving end of ‘extreme hostility’ from online trolls, the court heard.
She received one anonymous message expressing ‘genuine hope’ that she suffers an ‘extremely painful death’ and suggesting she ‘jump off a cliff’.
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Another, purporting to represent ‘Coleen’s Army’, claimed to be in possession of naked pictures and sex videos of Mrs Vardy which the writer threatened to leak online if she refused to pay a blackmail demand of two-and-a-half bitcoin – more than £30,000.
Mrs Vardy was also subjected to false allegations that she was involved in the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in Portugal and that she was the new leader of Islamic State.
Her barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said: ‘Following the police announcing that a new suspect had been identified in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, [Mrs Vardy] was the subject of a number of highly distressing publications on Twitter alleging she was the suspect.’
Leicester City striker Vardy, who could give evidence if the case goes to trial next year, has also been the target of abuse from football fans.
‘Taunts directed at him in the weeks following the publication of the post, included ‘Your wife is a grass’ and ‘Becky Vardy’s a grass’,’ Mr Tomlinson said.
Vardy had access to his wife’s Instagram account, the court heard, as did two of the couple’s representatives.
Mrs Rooney began her detective work last year when leaked stories about her appeared in newspapers. The mother of four planted fake stories on her Instagram account, then blocked all of her followers except Mrs Vardy.
When the stories appeared in The Sun, she posted: ‘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.’
Wives And Girlfriends, M’lud…
It’s a term in common usage for more than a decade.
Yet Rebekah Vardy’s barrister felt it necessary to explain to the High Court what a ‘Wag’ is.
Hugh Tomlinson QC said it refers to the wives and girlfriends of well-known footballers and was a term first coined in 2006, during the World Cup in Germany, when players’ partners were photographed in bars and nightclubs in Baden-Baden, where the England team was based.
He went on to explain that Coleen Rooney had been dubbed Wagatha Christie by newspapers due to ‘her process to find the true villain of the piece’.
There was also debate over whether it was ‘widely known’ that celebrities and other media personalities may have their social media accounts managed by others.
Mrs Rooney’s lawyer David Sherborne said it was well known to social media users – but perhaps not to lawyers and judges from an older generation.
Of the fake stories, she 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.’
Mr Tomlinson said Mrs Rooney’s post was an ‘untrue and unjustified defamatory attack’ which left readers in no doubt that she was accusing Mrs Vardy of ‘consistently and repeatedly betraying her trust over several years’.
His client has ‘suffered extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment as a result of the publication of the post’.
Mrs Rooney’s detective work makes it clear that ‘the finger is being pointed’ at Mrs Vardy ‘as the villain’, he said.
‘It has, as was inevitable given Mrs Rooney’s public profile and the sensational nature of the allegation, been republished in the media and on social media on hundreds of thousands of occasions to many millions of readers.
‘It’s a very serious claim to make to millions of people. She was seven months pregnant at the time the post was made, obviously increasing the stress and distress she suffered.’
Mr Tomlinson said the case has been wrongly trivialised because both women are married to famous footballers but its impact on her has been far from trivial.
He added: ‘She has been subjected to an undue and unjustified attack that has had, and continues to have, an impact on her.
‘Whatever leaks there were did not come from her. As a last resort she has brought this action to vindicate her reputation.’
He argued that Mrs Rooney’s post created a ‘highly damaging, false and permanent digital footprint’ about her.
Mr Tomlinson added: ‘The claimant never knows when or where she might be faced with the allegation or reference to the post which causes her great anxiety and upset.’
He asked the court to give both sides the chance to see if they can resolve their dispute through mediation. If they fail to agree a settlement, then the dispute would be expected to go to a full trial next summer.
Mrs Rooney’s legal team insist her post meant that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that Mrs Vardy was responsible for passing on information.
David Sherborne, for Mrs Rooney, stated in written submissions that the message readers would take away from it was that it was Rebekah Vardy’s account that was the source of private stories about his client appearing in The Sun – not Rebekah Vardy herself.
‘Mrs Rooney does not refer to an individual, she refers to an account,’ Mr Sherborne said. ‘The ordinary reasonable, reader would conclude that it was saying something less than unequivocally that Rebekah Vardy was the source.’
Mr Justice Warby said he will give judgment this afternoon on the meaning of Mrs Rooney’s online posts.