Rebekah Vardy has told the High Court she did not leak stories about Coleen Rooney to the press – saying "I didn’t give any information to a newspaper" as she gave evidence in the "Wagatha Christie" libel trial for the first time.
Vardy is suing Rooney after being publicly accused of leaking "false stories" to the media in 2019, and after several months of preliminary hearings the libel trial got under way on Tuesday.
Following opening arguments from both legal teams, Vardy entered the witness box in the afternoon and faced questions from Rooney’s lawyer David Sherborne. She told the court she agreed it was "wrong" and "upsetting" for someone to secretly pass on another person’s private information, and said: "I didn’t leak anything to anyone."
Asked by Mr Sherborne if she respects other people’s privacy, Vardy replied: "Yes, I do." Rooney’s barrister then referred to an interview Vardy gave to the News Of The World in 2004, in which she revealed details of a claimed sexual encounter with pop star Peter Andre.
The barrister read excerpts from the article, in which it was claimed Andre had managed "just five minutes of sex with Rebekah" and in which she said he had "the smallest trouser equipment I’ve ever seen", that was like a "miniature chipolata".
He asked Vardy if giving the interview was "respectful" of Andre. "I was forced into a situation by my ex-husband to do this," she told the court. "It is something that I deeply regret… It is not nice to read and I understand why this is being used and to me this is mudslinging and I was also threatened with mudslinging by Mrs Rooney’s team."
Asked the question again by Mr Sherborne, Vardy replied: "The circumstances around it were completely different."
The key points from the opening day of the trial
• Witness statement details how Vardy felt when she learned about Rooney’s post – saying she thought she might faint
• ‘This is a detective story,’ Rooney’s lawyer tells the court, and there are only ‘two real suspects’ – Vardy and her agent, Caroline Watt. If Vardy told Watt to leak the stories ‘that makes her just as responsible as the person who pulled the trigger’, he says – like ‘hiring a hitman’
• Vardy’s lawyer says Rooney was ‘revelling in the attention’ of comparisons to Scooby Doo and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple after her social media post went viral
• Rooney’s lawyer says she told no one of her sleuthing, not even her husband Wayne Rooney – who is now listed as a witness
• Details of Euro 2016 seat row revealed in court – when Vardy allegedly told Rooney to ‘f*** off’
• The court hears of vile abusive messages sent to Vardy after Rooney published her allegation
Coleen Rooney, the wife of former England star Wayne, was dubbed "Wagatha Christie" after publicly claiming in October 2019 that Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, shared three fake stories, which she posted on her personal Instagram account, with The Sun newspaper.
Under English defamation law, Rooney must prove her post was "substantially true". The full trial is set to last seven days and follows months of preliminary hearings, with her husband Wayne among those listed to give evidence.
Wayne Rooney appeared alongside his wife in court on Tuesday, but there was no sign of Jamie Vardy during the first day of the hearing.
‘I thought I was going to pass out’: Vardy’s reaction to Rooney’s social media post
In a witness statement submitted to the court, Vardy detailed how she learned of Rooney’s allegations while she was on holiday in Dubai and seven months pregnant.
"I started to get really hot and suffered from strange palpitations," she wrote. "Loads of messages started coming through on my mobile phone and I was seeing these messages on Instagram calling me names: "f****** rat", "f****** b*tch"…
"I was in such a heightened state of emotion because I was heavily pregnant and it felt like the whole world was caving in on me. I must have been in shock. I remember getting out of the car and I was shaking and thought I was going to be sick. I felt extremely paranoid and like everyone in the beach club was looking at me. I thought I was going to pass out and Jamie decided we needed to leave straight away."
Vardy went on to say that she does not "fully remember the journey back to the hotel because I was almost hyperventilating".
She continued: "I knew that I had not done anything wrong. I had not leaked those stories and I did not even know what posts I was supposed to have leaked. I started getting really bad pains in my stomach when we got back to the hotel. They were contraction type pains and I panicked that the baby was in danger. I made myself calm down and tried to think clearly."
Vardy v Rooney: The lawyers’ opening arguments
In written submissions to the court, Vardy’s barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said that while the case has been trivialised as "WAG Wars" it has had a "very profound" impact on her life, leading to "high intensity abuse and vilification".
She has suffered "immense distress" as a result of Rooney’s now infamous allegations and "had no choice" but to take her to court "to establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation", Mr Tomlinson said.
However, in the written argument for Rooney, 36, barrister David Sherborne said his client feels "absolutely confident" in the investigation she conducted to find the source of the leaks and that her "authentication was as thorough as many newsrooms".
Rooney considers Vardy, 40, "fame hungry" and said her husband had to speak to Jamie Vardy about his wife when both footballers were in the England squad in the Euro 2016 tournament in France, due to Rebekah Vardy’s "excessive media activity", the written statement says.
Abusive messages sent to Vardy about her and her children
Details of some of the abusive messages sent to Rebekah Vardy were included in her legal team’s written statement, with one saying: "I hope your baby gets put in a microwave." Another called Vardy a "dirty rotten sl*g" and an "evil wicked rat face b*tch", and described her children as "f****** gremlin kids".
Jamie Vardy was also subjected to chants about his wife during football matches, the court was told.
Vardy has "endured very high levels of continued public abuse and ridicule", her legal team said in the written submissions. "While this case has been presented as trivial ‘Wag Wars’, it has had, and continues to have, a very profound impact on Mrs Vardy’s life.
"The allegation made against Mrs Vardy is plainly serious and has been circulated to extraordinary extent, leading to high intensity abuse and vilification… Mrs Vardy is entitled to very substantial award of damages to compensate her for the wrong that has been committed."
Rooney’s allegation "was and remains false", Mr Tomlinson’s written argument said. "Mrs Vardy had not leaked information about Mrs Rooney or her friends and family to The Sun newspaper from her private Instagram account.
"Mrs Rooney did not have the ‘irrefutable’ evidence that she claimed to have had: her so-called ‘careful investigation’ was nothing of the sort.
"If anyone had been leaking information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram this was not done with Mrs Vardy’s knowledge or approval."
‘Uncovering the truth was imperative’
Rooney’s post on Twitter has received more than 287,000 "likes", while on Instagram it has been liked almost 200,000 times.
She is defending the claim on the basis of truth and public interest. Her original allegation against Vardy "is not a very grave one, but it is an important one", her lawyers say. "The leaks had caused a great deal of upset to [Rooney] as well as others, and so uncovering the truth was imperative."
The case first went to court in November 2020, with a judge finding at that time that Rooney’s post "clearly identified" Vardy – and not just her account – as being "guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust".
Since then, several hearings have taken place to prepare for the trial, including one where texts between Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt emerged.
In the most recent hearing before the trial, the High Court was told by Rooney’s barrister that Vardy now "appears to accept" that Ms Watt was the source of leaked stories.
‘That must be concealment’
In his written argument, Mr Sherborne said there are "numerous examples of the claimant and Ms (Caroline) Watt conspiring to pass private and personal information on to the press about other individuals".
He continued: "In short, the claimant is someone who has secretly provided, or sought to provide, to the press private information which she has been privy to in relation to a number of individuals in the footballing world or other celebrities, and not just the defendant, without their consent."
However, in April, the court was told that Ms Watt is not well enough to give evidence at the trial. She has also withdrawn a waiver that might have allowed journalists from The Sun to say whether or not she was the source of the leaks.
The court has also been told by Rooney’s lawyer of "widespread and significant destruction or loss of evidence" in the case, which notably include the loss of Ms Watt’s phone in the North Sea.
"The loss and destruction of evidence by [Vardy] and Ms Watt – which, alarmingly, continues to evolve even in recent days – has been flagrant and beyond belief," Mr Sherborne wrote.
Later in the written submission, he said: "To borrow from Wilde, to lose one significant set of documents may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two, carelessness, but to lose 10? That must be concealment."
Vardy’s lawyer has said his client "has no personal knowledge" of her agent’s phone falling into the sea.
Speaking to the court on Tuesday, Mr Tomlinson said that Vardy had "trusted her friend" Watt but following the recent developments she now "doesn’t know what to think" and "accepts that it’s possible" that Ms Watt could have been the source of some of the stories.
A case of ‘betrayal’
Mr Sherborne, Rooney’s barrister, said in his written arguments that there is a question the court needs to decide on – was Rooney "betrayed" by Vardy because she knew Ms Watt, "her PR and close confidante", was leaking Rooney’s private information to The Sun "and condoned this, as well as directly leaking information herself"?
Or was Vardy "betrayed by Caroline Watt because she had leaked this information without Mrs Vardy knowing it and had lied to her by denying all along that she had leaked anything"?
In court, Mr Sherborne told the judge: "You do not have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, you just have to conclude that it is more likely than not that Mrs Vardy was responsible, either directly or through Ms Watt."
Wagatha Christie: The background
Rooney accused Vardy of leaking "false stories" about her private life to the media in October 2019, after carrying out a months-long "sting operation" that involved sharing Instagram posts but secretly blocking all but one account – Vardy’s – from seeing them.
The fake stories included Rooney travelling to Mexico for a baby "gender selection" procedure, planning a return to TV, and the basement flooding at her home.
Read more: The Wagatha Christie case explained
"I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them," Rooney wrote in the internet post that quickly went viral.
"It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account."
Vardy denies the accusations and is suing Mrs Rooney for libel. The trial before Mrs Justice Steyn continues, with a decision expected in writing at a later date. Vardy’s evidence continues tomorrow.
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