The downfall of Rebekah Vardy in the Wagatha Christie battle with Coleen Rooney

The downfall of Rebekah Vardy in the Wagatha Christie battle with Coleen Rooney

Rebekah Vardy’s decision to sue Coleen Rooney for libel will be remembered as one of the biggest own goals in UK legal history.

By insisting on a full trial in the glare of the international media, Vardy transformed a social media spat into a full-scale war of the WAGs in which her own reputation was damaged, perhaps irretrievably.

Aside from an estimated £3 million legal bill, the 40-year-old has managed to set in concrete that she was secretly leaking stories to the media about a fellow footballer’s wife and plotting to release stories about her husband’s teammates.

And in the course of the legal battle, she deleted WhatsApp messages which may have formed evidence in the case against her, a High Court judge has found.

When Rooney posted her now-infamous social media accusation that Vardy had been leaking stories to the press, concluding with the iconic words “It’s ……….Rebekah Vardy’s account”, inevitably it went viral.

Memes were created, mocking up Rooney as famous sleuths from history, and she earned the “Wagatha Christie” tag.

Coleen and Wayne Rooney leaving the Royal Courts Of Justice during the trial (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Coleen and Wayne Rooney leaving the Royal Courts Of Justice during the trial (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

An indignant Vardy issued a public statement denying the charge, criticising Rooney for going public during the latter stages of her pregnancy, and insisting someone else was to blame.

Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, who would go on to play a pivotal role, had fed her the denial, to say: “I never speak to anyone about you as various journalists who have asked me to over the years can vouch for. If you thought this was happening you could have told me & I could have changed my passwords to see if it stopped.

“Over the years various people have had access to my insta & just this week I found I was following people I didn’t know and have never followed myself.”

Yet that turned out not to be the case - Mrs Justice Steyn ruled on Friday that there is “robust evidence” that Vardy’s social media account had not been compromised.

As the legal battle wore on, the evidence against Vardy continued to mount.

When former Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater was arrested for drink-driving in April 2019, Vardy suggested to Watt that she could get the footballer’s address for a photographer, and insisted “I want paying for this”.

Coleen Rooney (left) and Rebekah Vardy (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Coleen Rooney (left) and Rebekah Vardy (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

In the witness box, Vardy said she wanted the arrest to be public knowledge, saying she is “deeply affected by drink-driving” – essentially admitting being involved in a leak.

“It is evidence of Ms Vardy’s willingness to provide information to the press about others within her circle which they would undoubtedly have preferred not to be disclosed”, ruled the judge. “And it illuminates the way in which Ms Vardy and Ms Watt worked collaboratively.”

WhatsApp exchanges between Vardy and Watt included the direction from the WAG to “leak the story” about a married TV star’s affair.

She tried to say it was an inside joke between close friends, but the judge found no trace of humour and instead frustration from Vardy that the leak did not happen.

A story that did make it to print concerned a minor car crash had been involved in Coleen Rooney in the US in January 2019. It was one of the incidents that sparked her fears of a leak within her followers.

Extensive messages between Vardy and Watt emerged, discussing the social media post about the crash, images of the damage caused to her vehicle, and speculating about what had happened to Rooney.

 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

Watt told Rooney about a Sun journalist “trying to do a story on Coleen crashing her car”, and the messages also uncovered a decidedly mean undercurrent as the two women joked about “victim” Coleen.

When Rooney briefly unfollowed Vardy on Instagram, at a time when she was hunting for the leaker, Vardy angrily said to Watt: “What a c***” and added: “That c*** needs to get over herself!”

When Rooney spoke out to her followers about the leaked car crash story, Watt told Vardy: “And it wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me.”

The judge concluded: “It is obvious from these messages, both when read in isolation and confirmed by reading them in the context of other exchanges between Ms Vardy and Ms Watt, that Ms Vardy provided information that she had derived from the private Instagram Account to Ms Watt, in the knowledge that Ms Watt would provide it to a journalist from The Sun.”

As the trial wore on, more damaging exchanges emerged, painting Vardy as not just a habitual leaker of stories on her friends and associates but also someone who courted publicity.

She had orchestrated a paparazzi photo of her leaving hospital with her new-born child – presented in the news as a surprise picture she had not known about.

At the World Cup in 2018, Vardy was in secret contact with a photography agency as she dined with fellow WAGs in St Petersburg, ensuring that exclusive pictures could be obtained of them socialising.

Vardy denied having a leading hand in the incident, but the judge concluded the messages she had sent at the time were more reliable than her evidence to the High Court.

Rebekah and Jamie Vardy arrive at the Royal Courts Of Justice, London, as the high-profile libel battle between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney continues. Picture date: Tuesday May 17, 2022 (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
Rebekah and Jamie Vardy arrive at the Royal Courts Of Justice, London, as the high-profile libel battle between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney continues. Picture date: Tuesday May 17, 2022 (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

In fact, the judge found Vardy “generally unwilling to make factual concessions, however implausible her evidence”, and when faced with compelling suggestions that she had a penchant for leaks – evidenced by comments like “would love to leak those stories” - she gave “wholly implausible” excuses.

As she faces up to defeat, it could be easily forgotten that Vardy chose to bring the legal action, while Rooney says she made repeated efforts to settle the case.

Vardy faced a four-day ordeal in the witness box, pouring over foul-mouthed messages that were once private, having to revisit an excruciating kiss-and-tell on Peter Andre, and issuing increasingly desperate denials as the evidence mounted.

She also had to tackle a large black hole in the case, where disclosure in the legal process had been thrown into disarray by missing phone data, a corrupted computer, and a mobile phone that ended up in the North Sea.

Watt said she had dropped the handset while on a boat trip in Scotland, just days after the court had ordered for it to be given to Rooney’s team.

Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, seized on the incident, accusing Vardy’s side of a cover-up with a phone consigned to Davy Jones’ Locker.

“The timing is striking”, said Mrs Justice Steyn. “The likelihood that the loss Ms Watt describes was accidental is slim.”

Of the missing WhatsApp messages, the judge found: “I have found that Ms Vardy and Ms Watt have deliberately deleted or destroyed evidence.”

Watt eventually withdrew from the case on health grounds, while Sun journalists who had been planned as witnesses for Vardy also pulled out.

At the trial, Vardy spoke alone to support her case that she had been wrongly accused.

Rooney, however, was positive she was right all along and said she was galvanised by the way the trial had unfolded.

She had to face her past marital struggles coming to the fore again, but confidently told the court of the robustness of her investigation: “It worked for me and I found out at the end which account was doing it.”

“Libel litigation involves a gruelling and intense focus on the evidence and Ms Vardy’s pursuit of this case now stands as a stark reminder of the perils faced by a dogmatic claimant”, said Dominic Crossley, from law firm Payne Hicks Beach.

“For Coleen Rooney, however, this is vindication, not least of the remarkable stance she took against the leaking of her private information.”

As Rooney is once again hailed as a heroic amateur detective who stood up for her rights, Vardy is cast as the villain. But she is no longer in a soon-to-be-forgotten social media spat between WAGs, but at the centre of a high-profile High Court ruling of her own making that will live long in the memory.

Mrs Vardy said in the statement following the hearing: "I am extremely sad and disappointed at the decision that the judge has reached.

"It is not the result that I had expected, nor believe was just. I brought this action to vindicate my reputation and am devastated by the judge’s finding.

"The judge accepted that publication of Coleen’s post was not in the ‘public interest’ and she also rejected her claim that I was the ‘Secret Wag’.

"But as for the rest of her judgement, she got it wrong and this is something I cannot accept."