“It was me.” They’re three “Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal” words in affairs of this nature. In crime and courtroom dramas real or fictitious, the “it was me” moment tends to be where the plot starts to resolve itself.
Yet Rebekah Vardy, facing down a second full day of cross examination at the Royal Courts of Justice, must have known that the “it was me” moment would be coming since at least February. And what makes matters all the more bizarre is that she is not the defendant. This is a libel action she has brought herself.
She is suing Coleen Rooney for daring to suggest it was her who had leaked various stories about Rooney to The Sun newspaper (stories which Rooney made up purely to ensnare the perpetrator, earning the now unshakeable moniker “Wagatha Christie”).
Vardy must have seen the moment coming over the horizon like a train whose tracks she has been standing on for the last three months, but has declined to get out of its way.
It was shortly before lunch when it arrived, when Vardy had done seven-and-a-half hours of interrogation, all of which involves her being able to credibly claim that she would never collude with her agent to sell stories to The Sun. It was read out to her, by Rooney’s barrister. Three simple words. “It was me.”
To be clear, it was not Vardy who said “it was me”. It was her agent, Caroline Watt. Though that fact scarcely makes matters less tricky for her.
Watt’s own phone sadly went missing in the early stages of this case, when it dropped off the side of a boat and into the North Sea. Watt herself has also now sadly gone missing, in the sense that she has been deemed too unwell to give evidence in this trial.
(At one point, it was put to Vardy that it was somewhat helpful that crucial messages on Watt’s phone were now in “Davy Jones’s locker”. She turned to the judge to ask: “Who is Davy Jones? I don’t know who that is.” The judge’s reply, that it was “figurative”, did not appear to fully clear up the mystery.)
Anyway. Watt had said that “it was me” to make clear that Rooney was wrong to think that someone she “trusted” was leaking stories about her to the press. Wrong because it hadn’t been Vardy, it was merely her agent.
It is on this distinction that Vardy’s defence depends (though yet again we must make clear that she is not the defendant, this madness was all her idea). That Watt, who had access to Vardy’s social media accounts – or, if not hers, then by some process of digital alchemy – was giving stories gleaned from Rooney’s private instagram to journalists at The Sun newspaper. And that Vardy had nothing to do with it.
So it is more than a little bit inconvenient that Vardy has had to spend 10 full excruciating hours in a witness box at the Royal Courts of Justice, where a never-ending tranche of WhatsApp messages have been read out to her, all of them spelling out in grand detail the degree to which her and Watt appear to have worked together to provide stories to The Sun.
When Rooney dropped her bombshell tweet nearly three years ago, she was immediately heralded as a private investigator beyond compare. She had put entirely fake stories on her Instagram, ensured that only one account could see them (Vardy’s account), then watched as these stories made their way into The Sun.
But this jawdropper has been at least matched, if not surpassed, by the equally jawdropping incident, earlier in this case, where large numbers of WhatsApps shared between Vardy and Watt were accidentally shared with Rooney’s legal team.
The consequences of that accidental leak have been quite spectacular. It has led to such incidents as Vardy, sitting stony faced in the witness stand, claiming that an earlier sworn statement provided to the court wasn’t deliberately untrue, but was only inaccurate because she hadn’t read the WhatsApp messages in question. Which may be true. Maybe she hadn’t read them. But she did write them.
To seek to establish the degree of Vardy’s contact with the newspapers, the court heard about an incident in a restaurant at the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Vardy denies that she persuaded a large group of England Wags to gather outside a restaurant for a photograph, where she had allegedy arranged for them to encounter a photographer who was meant to be hiding in the bushes, but who hadn’t been kept up to date on a last minute change of plan, so was instead just standing there with his rather large camera out, much to the disgust of the rest of her party.
Vardy denies this caused her to “panic”, but she also declined why, if she was not panicking about it, she was messaging her agent, Watt again, with the word, “f***!”
It is also crucial to Rooney’s case that she establish that Vardy had a long and prosperous relationship with The Sun, and with its showbiz reporter Andy Halls. And it is just as crucial to Vardy’s case that she demonstrate that no such relationship existed.
And this is a case she continued to make, even while being shown, for example, an Instagram photograph of herself, eating a kebab in The Sun’s hospitality area at The National Television Awards, for which she personally thanks Halls in the accompanying caption, at the same time as, the court heard, not knowing whether or not he was even there.
Her case rests on convincing a judge that she would never message Halls from The Sun with stories about other people. And her WhatsApps to her agent include such phrases as “messaged Halls”.
There’s also the unfortunate fact that, back in 2019, when she replied to Rooney, claiming that lots of people had access to her account and it could have been any of them, she has inadvertently let us see behind the magician’s curtain, at WhatsApp messages, yet again with Watt, where the reply gets workshopped out, not to mention a defence, suggested by Watt, in which they could claim that she left the company and somebody else got hold of her laptop. This line, Watt explains, should only be used if all gets “undeniably obvious” that it was her.
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It is important to remember that as this is merely a civil libel trial, the judge will have to decide whether Vardy was involved in the selling of these stories to The Sun only on the “balance of probabilities” as opposed to “beyond reasonable doubt.” That it is, in other words, more likely than not that she was involved.
There is still a chance that Vardy could win. The judge may yet decide that the evidence against her is not overwhelming enough. At that point, Vardy could decide to bring damages. It will then be up to the judge to decide quite how much her reputation has been harmed by the suggestion she would leak stories to the press. It is, after all, a rather mean and tactless thing to do. And while they may decide it’s not certain she leaked this one, the intricate details of other such instances have been laid bare, and they are exceptionally ugly.
One reaches for such a metaphor with great reluctance, but if you were to wrongly accuse Harold Shipman of killing your grandma, he might have a case for libel, but it would not have been altogether easy for him to suggest that your outrageous suggestion had left his reputation in tatters.
The case continues.