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If I may be indulgent enough to begin on a personal note, the bizarre scenes in Court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice came, at least for me, with their own very strong sense of deja vu.
As Rebekah Vardy sat in the witness box, doing her best to look expressionless while her own horrific WhatsApp messages were read out to a world that can’t get enough of them, it was somewhat incredible to have to ponder the fact that she has, quite literally, brought this on herself.
When those four famous words, “It’s ……… Rebekah Vardy’s account” broke the internet nearly three years ago, we must assume it was at that point that their subject felt the only way to rehabilitate her reputation was to sue their author for libel.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. And as someone who has spent most of the last decade in the House of Commons, watching various ministers and prime ministers doing their impossible best to style out Brexit like it’s absolutely definitely all going to plan and not a mesmerically s*** idea that somehow was allowed to get completely out of hand, events down at the Royal Courts of Justice came fully loaded with the 140 per cent proof spirit of the times.
If you happen to be free at any point this week, one of the ancient and fundamental principles of justice is that any member of the public is entirely free to walk into this little courtroom and drink in the majesty of it all first hand. If you’re lucky, England’s record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, might even hold the door open for you, as he did for half the courtroom Wednesday lunchtime, in an act of chivalry that had only meant to be extended to his private detective wife.
But if you can’t make it, it’s best to imagine it as like watching Sky Sports News, but broadcast from an oak panelled room with all the presenting staff wearing wigs made of horsehair. (As a point of fact, and as if it all wasn’t discombobulating enough for Vardy up in the witness box, when you consider the defendant, Coleen Rooney’s well known love of extensions, and her husband’s very well-documented tonsorial adventures, there was not a single person in the entire front row of the courtroom for whom the hair upon their head had actually grown there.)
For most of the morning, there was legal argument, conducted in traditional plummy barrister baritone, about who had told various journalists that “the lads”, by which we mean Leicester City’s championship winning team of 2016, “were fuming”, or whether or not the lads were even fuming or if the lads being fuming had merely been speculation.
This grand public spectacle, as everybody surely now knows, is all the consequence of Coleen Rooney’s jaw dropping sleuthing of three years ago. When, trying to work out who was selling stories about her to the newspapers, she clandestinely hid her Instagram account from all but one account – Rebekah Vardy – then looked on for five months as the details of various Instagram posts that had only been viewed by one account – Rebekah Vardy’s account – found their way into The Sun.
One almost has to pinch oneself each time one remembers that it is Vardy, not Rooney, that has brought us to this point. So affronted was she by the suggestion she would ever have been involved in the leaking of stories to The Sun that, way back when, she replied to Ms Rooney’s now legendary post with a broken heart emoji.
In this court case, she is seeking to prove that she would never do such a thing. So it is somewhat inconvenient for her that large numbers of her WhatsApp messages with her agent, Caroline Watt, did not drown at the bottom of the North Sea when Ms Watt’s mobile phone found its way there while this case was in its early stages. Instead, they have found their way into the notes of Coleen Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne.
This trial is unlikely to yield a smoking gun – the clear and certain proof that it was Ms Vardy herself who told The Sun that she was the leaker. So Coleen Rooney has no course of action but to seek to establish that it’s the sort of thing she might do.
And so, as Wayne Rooney and the world’s media looked on, Ms Vardy went through a spectacle that would be beyond agonising for absolutely anybody – namely having her WhatsApp messages read out in court. (There’s no jury, it’s a civil case, which means the jury box is acting as reserved seating for members of the media who care about this stuff enough to have pre-booked a space. It could hardly feel more appropriate.)
Ms Vardy continues to insist that she would never leak personal information about other people to a newspaper, and certainly not for money, a matter which she continued to insist was true, even while a rather intimidating barrister read out messages of hers, one of which concerns a story about the former Leicester City footballer Danny Drinkwater getting done for drink driving, and specifically the words, “I want paying for this”.
It appears to be suboptimal for Ms Vardy that her defence – not that she is even defending herself – appears to rest on the fact that countless conversations with her agent, Caroline Watt, were conducted in a kind of jokey code, from which it is impossible to draw any literal meaning. When she said “I want paying for this” she did not in fact want paying. And the information The Sun appeared to be asking her to provide was already available on social media, though for some reason, on some part of social media accessible only to her and not to them.
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She is also determined that the public should believe that she would never do such a thing. Namely, leak stories about Coleen Rooney, a notion that Ms Rooney’s legal team have sought to undermine through one message, of which she is the subject, which simply reads: “Wow, what a c***.”
(A second message, featuring the phrase “nasty b****” was the subject of almost a full hour’s legal argument, specifically over whether it referred to Coleen Rooney or Celebrity Big Brother racism row star Danielle Lloyd.)
It’s progress, in a way. When the rarefied neo-gothic world of the Royal Courts of Justice were designed and built, they were conceived as a home only for those who tend to live a fully cloistered life from cradle to grave – from public school, to Oxbridge, to the inns of court. It was not imagined that this kind of justice would ever be accessible to anyone who hadn’t acquired the cash for it by birthright.
Seven figure libel trials tend to be what grandiose, privately wealthy politicians bring against equally grandiose media barons (and they tend to lose them). They do not tend to be peppered with such phrases as “the lads are fuming” and “she’s such a d***”. Naturally, they are all the better for it.
Whoever loses the Wagatha Christie trial will be more than a million quid down as a consequence. For such funds, one would hope a cheaper bit of advice might have been available a very long time ago. Principally, that this was a very bad idea.