Rebekah Vardy will have to pay up to £1.5m to Coleen Rooney in legal fees after losing yet another stage in the “Wagatha Christie” libel trial.
The high court on Tuesday decided that Vardy must pay 90% of Rooney’s court costs, a larger proportion than in many equivalent cases. The judge imposed the punitive charge partly because Vardy deliberately destroyed WhatsApp messages and other evidence relevant to the trial.
As a result Vardy will have to hand over £800,000 immediately to Rooney. Pending further legal discussions, she will then have to make further payments up to a maximum of £1.5m. On top of this, Vardy will have to pay her own legal costs, which could bring her combined bill to well over £3m.
This means that not only did Vardy voluntarily bring a libel case that destroyed her own reputation, she will also have paid millions of pounds for the privilege of being publicly humiliated.
Paul Lunt, of Brabners solicitors, who represented Rooney, said the ruling reflected the fact Vardy deliberately destroyed evidence. As a result her conduct fell “outside the ordinary and reasonable conduct expected of a party in legal proceedings”.
He said the loss of a phone containing potentially vital evidence over the side of a boat in the North Sea had driven up the final bill: “Coleen’s pursuit of that evidence is a major reason why her legal costs increased substantially from the original estimates given to the court long before the start of the trial.”
Vardy has also been ordered to pay the legal costs of journalists at the Sun who were dragged into the case. This may seem ironic, given that part of the trial revolved around claims Vardy had sought to be paid for stories by some of the same Sun journalists.
Rooney will not be awarded any money on top of her legal costs, as she was the defendant in the case and it was Vardy who was seeking libel damages.
The two-week trial made headlines around the world earlier this year after Vardy sued Rooney for libel over social media posts. Rooney, the wife of the former England footballer Wayne, had conducted a “sting” operation to find out who was leaking stories from her private Instagram account to journalists at the Sun.
Rooney went public in 2019, alleging: “It’s ……….… Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
Vardy, who is married to the Leicester City footballer Jamie, denied passing information to the Sun and sued Rooney for libel in an attempt to restore her reputation.
Yet in a damning ruling, a high court judge concluded that “significant parts” of Vardy’s evidence were not credible and there were many occasions when her evidence “was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, evasive or implausible”.
Mrs Justice Steyn also said Vardy and her agent, Caroline Watt, were likely to have deliberately destroyed potentially damning evidence. In addition to Watt’s phone being dropped off the side of a boat in the North Sea, Vardy’s own copy of the same messages was lost in the process of backing them up.
The judge concluded: “It is likely that Ms Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt, and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea.”
She also found it was likely Vardy “knew of, condoned and was actively engaged” in the process of Watt leaking stories about Rooney to the Sun.
Despite the ruling, Vardy has continued to maintain that she did not leak information from Rooney’s private Instagram account to journalists at the Sun. She said the judge had “got it wrong” and continues to maintain her innocence, despite the substantial circumstantial evidence to the contrary heard by the court.
The proceedings are now set to be the subject of multiple television series.
Vardy has made one major public appearance since the trial, after being paid for an interview with TalkTV, the television channel owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. In the interview she again denied being paid to provide stories to the Sun, which is also owned by News UK.