In the October 2019 post, Mrs Rooney, 36, said she had carried out a months-long “sting operation” and accused Mrs Vardy, 40, of leaking “false stories” about her private life to the press.
The wife of former England star Wayne Rooney publicly claimed Mrs Vardy’s account was the source behind three stories in The Sun newspaper featuring fake details she had posted on her private Instagram stories.
Mrs Vardy, who is married to Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, denied leaking stories to the media and sued her fellow footballer’s wife for libel, while Mrs Rooney defended the claim on the basis her post was “substantially true”.
Both women attended a week-long trial at the High Court in London in May, which attracted a huge amount of press attention.
In a much-anticipated ruling on Friday, Mrs Justice Steyn found in Mrs Rooney’s favour and dismissed the claim against her.
In her ruling, Mrs Justice Steyn said it was “likely” that Mrs Vardy’s agent at the time, Caroline Watt, “undertook the direct act” of passing the information to The Sun.
But she added: “Nonetheless, the evidence … clearly shows, in my view, that Mrs Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots of Mrs Rooney’s posts, drawing attention to items of potential interest to the press, and answering additional queries raised by the press via Ms Watt.
The judge added: “In my judgment, the conclusions that I have reached as to the extent to which the claimant engaged in disclosing to The Sun information to which she only had access as a permitted follower of an Instagram account which she knew, and Mrs Rooney repeatedly asserted, was private, suffice to show the single meaning is substantially true.”
During the trial, the two women each gave evidence, as did Mr Rooney, also 36, who played for Everton and Manchester United as well as England.
Referring to Mrs Rooney’s viral “reveal” post at the end of the trial, her barrister David Sherborne told the court: “It is what she believed at the time… and it is what she believes even more so now that we have got to the end of the case.”
Mr Sherborne argued that Mrs Vardy had a “habitual and established practice” of leaking information about those she knew – through Ms Watt – to The Sun newspaper.
He said there were, in text message exchanges between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt, examples of the pair discussing leaking other people’s private information.
Mrs Justice Steyn said in her ruling: “In my judgment, the conclusions that I have reached as to the extent to which the claimant engaged in disclosing to The Sun information to which she only had access as a permitted follower of an Instagram account which she knew, and Mrs Rooney repeatedly asserted, was private, suffice to show the single meaning is substantially true.”
Mrs Justice Steyn said that Rebekah Vardy chose not to call her agent Caroline Watt to give evidence partly because she knew her evidence “would be shown to be untrue”.
Ms Watt had been due to give evidence in support of Mrs Vardy, however, she withdrew her evidence pre-trial, with the court told it was due to health concerns.
The judge said: “I accept that her health has been adversely affected by these proceedings. In part, no doubt, that is because she is not someone who has previously been, or ever sought to be, in the public eye, and being a key witness in a trial of this nature would have been uncomfortable even if she had nothing to hide.
“However, I am compelled to the conclusion that the primary reason Ms Watt was so very reluctant to give evidence, and has suffered adversely from the pressure to do so, was that she knew that to a large extent the evidence in her statements was untrue.
“In my view, the claimant’s decision not to seek to call Ms Watt, against her will, was motivated, to a substantial degree, by concern for her friend’s welfare.
“But in the circumstances, I also draw the inference that Mrs Vardy chose not to call Ms Watt because she knew that when tested in cross-examination her evidence would be shown to be untrue, and that it would have been highly likely to have undermined the claimant’s case that she had no involvement in disclosing information from the private Instagram account.”
In the first ruling in the case in November 2020, then-Mr Justice Warby found the viral post had “clearly identified” Mrs Vardy as being “guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust”.
He also found that an ordinary reader would read the post as claiming Mrs Vardy had “regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Mrs Rooney’s private posts and stories”.
The libel battle came after Mrs Rooney publicly claimed that an account behind three fake stories in The Sun that she had posted on her personal Instagram account was Mrs Vardy’s.
The fake stories Mrs Rooney planted on her Instagram during the sting operation featured her travelling to Mexico for a “gender selection” procedure, her planning to return to TV, and the basement flooding at her home.
In the post on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, she wrote: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. “It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
It is believed the total legal costs of the case will be in the region of £3 million, most of which will now be borne by Mrs Vardy.