Wagatha Christie Verdict: What is the Wagatha Christie trial, what happened between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy
In a viral social media post in October 2019, Mrs Rooney, 36, said she had carried out a “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 fake stories she had posted on her private Instagram account.
Mrs Vardy, who is married to Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, denied leaking the stories and sued her fellow footballer’s wife for libel, while Mrs Rooney defended the claim on the basis her post was “substantially true”.
After a highly-publicised libel trial in May, judge Mrs Justice Steyn is now due to publish her ruling today.
Over seven days in courtroom number 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice, the two footballers’ wives each gave evidence as revelations from the case made daily headlines across the British press.
During the trial, Mrs Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne argued that Mrs Vardy had a “habitual and established practice” of leaking information about those she knew – through her friend and former agent Caroline Watt – to The Sun newspaper.
Discussing Mrs Rooney’s viral “reveal” post, her barrister added: “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.”
However, Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Mrs Vardy, said Mrs Rooney had “failed to produce any evidence” that Mrs Vardy had “regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower” of her private Instagram account by passing on information from it to The Sun.
Mr Tomlinson said the libel battle was a “very simple case” when “one clears away the conspiracy theories”.
He added: “Mrs Vardy’s case is and always has been that she did not leak the information nor did she authorise anyone else to leak.
“She does not know to this day what happened. She does not know where this information came from.”
The barrister added that Mrs Vardy suffered “very serious harm to her reputation” as a result of Mrs Rooney’s post.
Wagatha Christie Timeline
After seven days of courtroom drama in May, the decision in the “Wagatha Christie” trial will be announced on Friday.
Here is how the libel row between footballers’ wives Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy reached the High Court in London:
– September 2017 to October 2019 – The Sun newspaper runs a number of articles about Mrs Rooney, including that she travelled to Mexico to look into baby “gender selection” treatment, her plan to revive her TV career and the flooding of her basement.
– October 9 2019 – Mrs Rooney uses social media to accuse Mrs Vardy of selling stories from her private Instagram account to the tabloids.
Mrs Rooney says she spent five months attempting to work out who was sharing information about her and her family based on posts she had made on her personal social media page.
After sharing a series of “false” stories and using a process of elimination, Mrs Rooney claims they were viewed by one Instagram account, belonging to Mrs Vardy.
Mrs Vardy, then pregnant with her fifth child, denies the allegations and says various people had access to her Instagram over the years.
She claims to be “so upset” by Mrs Rooney’s accusation, later adding: “I thought she was my friend but she completely annihilated me.”
The public dispute makes headlines around the world, with the hashtag #WagathaChristie trending.
– February 13 2020 – In a tearful appearance on ITV’s Loose Women, Mrs Vardy says the stress of the dispute caused her to have severe anxiety attacks and she “ended up in hospital three times”.
Mrs Rooney says in a statement that she does not want to “engage in further public debate”.
– June 23 2020 – It emerges that Mrs Vardy has launched libel proceedings against Mrs Rooney.
Mrs Vardy’s lawyers allege she “suffered extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment as a result of the publication of the post and the events which followed”.
– November 19-20 2020 – The libel battle has its first High Court hearing in London.
A judge rules that Mrs Rooney’s October 2019 post “clearly identified” Mrs Vardy as being “guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust”.
Mr Justice Warby concludes that the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the posts was that Mrs Vardy had “regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Mrs Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun of Mrs Rooney’s private posts and stories”.
– February 8-9 2022 – A series of explosive messages between Mrs Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt – which Mrs Rooney’s lawyers allege were about her – are revealed at a preliminary court hearing.
The court is told Mrs Vardy was not referring to Mrs Rooney when she called someone a “nasty bitch” in one exchange with Ms Watt.
Mrs Rooney’s lawyers seek further information from the WhatsApp messages, but the court is told that Ms Watt’s phone fell into the North Sea after a boat she was on hit a wave, before further information could be extracted from it.
– February 14 – Mrs Rooney is refused permission to bring a High Court claim against Ms Watt for misuse of private information to be heard alongside the libel battle.
A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Steyn, says the bid was brought too late and previous opportunities to make the claim had not been taken.
– April 13 – Ms Watt is not fit to give oral evidence at the upcoming libel trial, the High Court is told as the case returns for another hearing.
The agent revokes permission for her witness statement to be used, and withdraws her waiver which would have allowed Sun journalists to say whether she was a source of the allegedly leaked stories.
– April 29 – Mrs Vardy “appears to accept” that her agent was the source of allegedly leaked stories, Mrs Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne tells the High Court.
He argues that a new witness statement submitted by Mrs Vardy suggests Ms Watt was the source but Mrs Vardy claims she “did not authorise or condone her”.
Mrs Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson says the statement did not contain “any change whatever in the pleaded case”, with her legal team having no communication with Ms Watt.
– May 10-19 – Mrs Vardy and Mrs Rooney come face to face in court as the trial of their libel battle takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London before Mrs Justice Steyn. Both women give evidence, as revelations from the case make daily headlines across the British press.
May 20 – An agreed 313-page bundle of evidence is released including pictures from Mrs Rooney’s Instagram account and screenshots where Mrs Vardy complained to her husband Jamie Vardy that she was being made a “scapegoat” during Euro 2016.
July 29 – Mrs Justice Steyn will give her judgement on the trial.
Three fake Instagram posts at the centre of the Wagatha Christie libel trial
Three “false” stories Coleen Rooney claims to have uploaded to her private Instagram account during a months-long “sting operation” are at the centre of her libel dispute with Rebekah Vardy.
In her now famous October 2019 social media “reveal” post, Mrs Rooney claimed her fellow footballer’s wife’s account was the only one to see the posts and alleged that information from them was leaked to The Sun newspaper – something Mrs Vardy denies being responsible for.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at what was heard in court about the social media posts:
– The gender selection post
Mrs Rooney claims to have made this “sting operation” post about a so-called gender-selection treatment on April 8, 2019.
The post featured a photograph of the back seat of an airplane overlaid with the text “Let’s go and see what this gender selection is all about”.
She alleges that the invented post was marked on Instagram as “seen” only by Mrs Vardy’s account, with her lawyers providing a screengrab to the High Court.
In August that year, the Sun published an article claiming Mrs Rooney travelled to Mexico to look into the treatment.
The story, carrying journalist Andy Halls’s byline, is headlined “COL’S BABY GIRL BID Coleen Rooney travelled to Mexico to look into £8k ‘gender selection’ treatment in desperate bid to have baby girl”.
The article, referring to “a source” and “pals”, alleged Mrs Rooney is “so desperate for her fifth baby to be a girl” that she wants to hear more about a process “in which doctors examine embryos in a lab before implanting only those of the desired gender back into the womb”.
– The flooded basement post
Mrs Rooney says she shared false information about her basement being flooded on October 2, 2019 in another “sting operation” post.
She again alleged to the High Court that the post was viewed only by Mrs Vardy’s Instagram account.
Her lawyers have shared a screengrab of the post featuring a bottle of wine overlaid with the text: “needed after today… flood in the basement of our new house… when it all seemed to be going so well”.
On October 8, The Sun published a story, with Simon Boyle’s byline, headlined: “IN ROO-INS Wayne and Coleen Rooney’s £20million ‘Morrisons mansion’ flooded during Storm Lorenzo”.
The article, quoting a “source close to the couple”, claimed to reveal that bad weather had “wreaked havoc” at a Cheshire property, with Mrs Rooney being “called in to find the cellar had been flooded”.
– TV decisions post
A private fabricated post about planning a return to TV was made on September 25, 2019, Mrs Rooney claims.
She says it featured a “selfie” and the text “Up and out!! Easing my way back into work!! TV decisions today…. maybe it’s time for Australia” and claims it was seen only by Mrs Vardy’s account.
Three days later, a Sun article under Michael Hamilton’s byline was published under the headline “ROO-MBA Coleen Rooney in talks to join Strictly next year as she looks to revive TV career when Wayne returns to UK”.
It quoted an anonymous source and claimed to exclusively reveal Mrs Rooney was “locked in talks with producers”, planned to “front a fashion programme” and “could well do” the Strictly Come Dancing TV show.
The court has been told Mr Hamilton has denied that Mrs Vardy or her agent Caroline Watt were the source of the article.
Mrs Rooney’s lawyers have accepted that the post and article “do not match up entirely” but argue the timing was “very close” and it fuelled Mrs Rooney’s suspicions about the leaking of her information and therefore supports her defence that the sting operation was in the public interest.
What are the legal issues in the Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney libel battle?
As the judgment in Rebekah Vardy’s libel claim against Coleen Rooney over her ‘Wagatha Christie’ social media post is due on Friday, the PA news agency looks at some of the legal issues involved.
Q. What is the central issue in the case?
A. A libel is a published statement which is damaging to a person’s reputation – or defamatory.
Mrs Vardy’s case is that she has suffered “very serious harm to her reputation” as a result of Mrs Rooney’s 2019 post which alleged Mrs Vardy’s Instagram account was responsible for leaking information about her to The Sun newspaper and she is seeking “substantial damages”, or compensation.
Mrs Rooney is defending the claim on the basis it was true and in the public interest for her to publish it.
Q. What has to be proved?
A. In a libel case, it is up to the defendant – in this case Mrs Rooney – to prove their defence to the claim.
In this case, Mrs Rooney relies on a defence of truth – that what she posted when she identified Mrs Vardy as the alleged leaker was “substantially true”.
She also contends that she reasonably believed it was in the public interest to expose Mrs Vardy as the alleged leaker.
As this is a civil case, the standard of proof is “on the balance of probabilities”, or “more likely than not”.
Q. What was the meaning of the post?
A. At an earlier stage of the proceedings, a judge concluded that the “natural and ordinary meaning” of Mrs Rooney’s post, to the “ordinary reasonable reader” was that: “Over a period of years 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 Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Ms Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Ms Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public.”
For Mrs Rooney to successfully defend the claim, she must prove that meaning was “substantially true”.
Q. How much in damages can Mrs Vardy expect to receive if she wins?
A. There is an upper limit of damages in libel actions of about £300,000, so that would be the maximum amount Mrs Vardy could receive.
The amount of damages awarded is likely to depend on a number of factors, including the level of harm caused to a person’s reputation and how many people read the published libel, but is usually dwarfed by legal costs.
Matthew Dando, partner at law firm Wiggin LLP, said: “Libel damages are virtually never as high as the costs of the process.
“If Mrs Vardy does win damages they will be a fraction of her total legal spend which will almost certainly exceed £1 million.”
Q. What are the estimated legal costs of the case?
A. At a hearing in March last year, it was revealed Mrs Vardy had a costs budget for the case of nearly £900,000, while Mrs Rooney’s costs were estimated to be about £400,000.
However, it is believed the case has now exceeded those budgets and the legal costs – including for the trial over seven days – will be at least £2 million in total.
Mr Dando said Mrs Vardy “runs the real risk” the legal action will leave her out of pocket.
Q. Who will have to pay?
A. Generally, whoever loses the case pays the vast majority of the other party’s legal costs.
If Mrs Vardy wins and gets either the same level of damages she is seeking, or a higher amount, then Mrs Rooney will have to pay almost all of her legal costs, as well as her own.
However, if there has been an attempt to reach a financial settlement at an earlier stage in proceedings, and an offer has been made in secret, this position changes.
If a defendant has offered a sum to settle a claim, and the claimant rejects it and then goes on to win the case, but is awarded a smaller sum than the earlier offer, the claimant will have to pay the defendant’s legal costs from the date the offer was made.
So if Mrs Vardy wins, but is awarded only a small amount of damages, she may to have to pay a portion of Mrs Rooney’s costs, as Mrs Rooney said she previously made efforts to resolve the case “amicably” without the need for a trial in 2020.
Mark Stephens, media specialist at law firm Howard Kennedy, said: “It is a possibility that the judge says effectively ‘a plague on both your houses’ – I’m giving you notional damages or some small amount of damages.”
Who’s who in the ‘Wagatha Christie’ case
As the judgment in the libel trial between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney is due on Friday, the PA news agency looks at some of the people involved in the case.
– Rebekah Vardy
The footballer’s wife bringing the claim, Mrs Vardy’s family was thrust into the limelight after her husband Jamie helped Leicester City on their way to an unlikely Premier League win in 2016.
The model and TV personality, 40, appeared on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2017 before later appearing on Dancing On Ice in 2021, as well as making appearances on Loose Women.
The mother-of-five recently wrote a children’s book with her husband Jamie, entitled Cedric The Little Sloth With A Big Dream, which follows a little sloth who hopes to become a footballer.
– Coleen Rooney
Mrs Rooney, the footballer’s wife defending the claim, is perhaps now better known as “Wagatha Christie” after her social media posts at the heart of the libel trial went viral.
The 36-year-old has had a varied career including TV presenting and writing, as well as fronting an exercise DVD.
Mrs Rooney met her husband Wayne when she was 12, as the couple went to the same school in Liverpool.
They began dating when they both turned 16 and have four sons together – Kai Wayne, Klay Anthony, Kit Joseph and Cass Mac.
– Caroline Watt
Mrs Vardy’s friend and former agent, Ms Watt has featured in some of the preliminary hearings, despite not being a party to the claim or giving evidence at the trial.
She did not take part in the trial after a consultant forensic psychiatrist produced a report which concluded she is not fit to provide oral evidence.
Ms Watt is the owner of a phone which fell into the North Sea following a preliminary hearing – part of what Mrs Rooney’s lawyers have called “a series of unfortunate events” about the disclosure in the case.
At the final preliminary hearing at the end of April, Mrs Rooney’s lawyers claimed that a new witness statement from Mrs Vardy “suggests Ms Watt was the source of the leak but claims that (Mrs Vardy) ‘did not authorise or condone her’”.
– Jamie Vardy
A relative late bloomer in footballing terms, Mr Vardy’s career as a striker has seen him rise from non-league clubs to the top of the English game with Leicester City.
His 24 goals helped drive the Foxes to their remarkable 5,000-1 Premier League triumph six years ago, while he was also part of the squad that secured the FA Cup in May last year.
Foxes fans coined the chant “Jamie Vardy’s having a party” amid his goal-scoring exploits.
With Mrs Vardy he has children Sofia, seven, Finley, five, and two-year-old Olivia Grace. He also has one child from a previous relationship.
– Wayne Rooney
Bursting on to the footballing scene as a prodigious teenage talent playing for Everton nearly two decades ago, Mr Rooney went on to be England’s most-capped outfield player and record goal-scorer.
He collected a glut of trophies as a forward with Manchester United, later playing in the US.
Mr Rooney retired as a player last year and had been manager at Derby County until he left in June. He was appointed head coach of his former club DC United in July.
In 2022 he was the subject of a documentary on Amazon Prime Video about his life and career.
– Hugh Tomlinson QC
An experienced media barrister, Mr Tomlinson is at the front of Mrs Vardy’s legal team in the libel case.
Called to the bar in 1983, his previous clients include the Prince of Wales in his legal battle against the Mail on Sunday over his diaries, easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Mr Tomlinson, who became a QC in 2002, is a board member of campaign group Hacked Off.
– David Sherborne
Mr Sherborne also has a reputation as the barrister the rich and famous turn to for legal assistance – his previous client list includes Diana, Princess of Wales, Hollywood actor Michael Douglas and former prime minister Sir Tony Blair and his wife Cherie.
Mrs Rooney’s barrister is no stranger to high-profile libel trials at the Royal Courts of Justice, notably representing Johnny Depp in the actor’s 2020 libel claim against the publisher of the Sun, News Group Newspapers (NGN).
The barrister, called to the bar in 1992, has also represented dozens of claimants, including celebrities, suing NGN over phone hacking at the News Of The World.
– Mrs Justice Steyn
The High Court judge overseeing the case, Mrs Justice Steyn was appointed in 2019 and sits in the Queen’s Bench Division – the part of the High Court which deals with defamation, personal injury and breach of contract claims.
As well as overseeing the “Wagatha Christie” claim, other prominent cases she has heard include Arron Banks’ libel claim against journalist Carole Cadwalladr and the FDA union’s unsuccessful legal challenge over Boris Johnson’s decision to support Priti Patel following bullying accusations.
The daughter of former Law Lord Lord Steyn, Mrs Justice Steyn covered a variety of cases as a barrister, including a case over the expansion of Heathrow airport.
Key moments of the ‘Wagatha Christie’ libel battle – day by day
The libel battle between footballers’ wives Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney played out over seven days at the High Court in London.
With the judgment in the case now due on Friday, the PA news agency takes a look back at the key moments from each day of the trial.
– The much-anticipated trial of the ‘Wagatha Christie’ libel claim begins. Rebekah Vardy arrives at the High Court in London with a security guard, while Coleen Rooney attends with husband Wayne Rooney.
– The legal teams representing each of the women set out their cases for Mrs Justice Steyn, the judge hearing the case. Hugh Tomlinson QC, for Mrs Vardy, tells the court she “had no choice” but to bring the libel claim against Coleen Rooney to “establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation”, while David Sherborne, representing Mrs Rooney, tells the judge the case is essentially a “detective story” and “like any good detective story, you never find a person standing over the body with a smoking gun”.
– Mrs Vardy takes her place in the witness box shortly before 4pm and tells the court she “didn’t leak anything to anyone”. In her witness statement, she says she will “never forgive” Mrs Rooney after she “ruined” the last weeks of her pregnancy by accusing her of leaking private information to the press. She also describes the online abuse she suffered following Mrs Rooney’s ‘reveal’ post, says the impact of the allegation on her and her family has been “traumatic”.
– The first day of the trial ends with Mr Sherborne dramatically revealing a News Of The World article in which Mrs Vardy talked about a claimed sexual encounter with singer Peter Andre. The barrister reads the headline to the court, saying: “Peter’s hung like a small chipolata, shaved, slobbery, lasts five minutes”. Mrs Vardy responds by saying she was “forced into a situation” by her ex-husband.
– As Mrs Vardy’s cross examination continues into the second day of the trial, she denies a suggestion that it was “standard practice” for her to leak information to The Sun via her agent, Caroline Watt – who withdrew from the case at an earlier stage on mental health grounds. However, she accepts that some exchanges of messages between her and Ms Watt were “not good”.
– Mrs Vardy accepts directing Ms Watt to an Instagram post by Mrs Rooney where she talked about having crashed her Honda car, but says she had no knowledge of the agent “monitoring” Mrs Rooney’s account.
– The model and television personality brands a suggestion she deliberately moved seats at one of the matches during the Euro 2016 tournament to sit behind Mrs Rooney in order to attract more publicity as “ridiculous”.
– Mr Sherborne holds up a photograph used in an exclusive 2016 interview Mrs Vardy gave The Sun, saying: “You think you might recall these rather large images of you naked in a national newspaper.” Mrs Vardy replies that they were her own pictures and weren’t taken for the purposes of the article.
– Mrs Vardy begins to cry as she was asked about some of the abuse her and her family had received, and she also denies having close relationships with any journalists.
– Mrs Vardy denies orchestrating a paparazzi photographer to get a picture of the wives and girlfriends of the England players outside a St Petersburg restaurant during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
– The court hears further messages between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt in which they discussed a story about Mrs Rooney’s car being involved in a crash and Sun journalist Andy Halls, whose phone number Mrs Vardy previously denied having but later realised she had messaged him via Instagram.
– The 40-year-old again breaks down in tears after her barrister complained to the judge about the manner of Mr Sherborne’s questioning, and leaves the witness box after the judge grants a short break. A further break is needed a short while later after Mrs Vardy again starts crying under cross-examination and puts her head in her hands on the desk in front of her.
– Mrs Vardy is asked about a message Ms Watt sent to her following a ‘warning’ post Mrs Rooney published in which she said someone she trusted was betraying her by leaking stories. In the message, Ms Watt said: “And it wasn’t someone she trusted, it was me.” Asked why she didn’t challenge her agent, Mrs Vardy replies that she was bathing her children and watching Dancing On Ice so later continued gossiping with Ms Watt about Gemma Collins faceplanting on the ice.
– Mrs Vardy appears emotional several times on her final day appearing in the witness box, during which she is accused of throwing Ms Watt “under the bus”.
– The former model tells the court the News Of The World article about her sexual encounter with singer Peter Andre is one of her “biggest regrets”.
– Mrs Vardy concludes her evidence by claiming she felt “bullied and manipulated” while facing cross-examination.
– As Mrs Rooney enters the witness box, she tells the judge her viral “reveal” post was sent as a “last resort” after she previously sent out warnings.
– The court hears Mrs Rooney was “surprised” by the interest her post triggered, with her adding: “It’s not in my nature to cause abuse or trolling in any way at all.”
– Mrs Rooney tells the court she was in a “vulnerable situation” following her husband’s arrest for drink-driving in September 2017.
– She says in written evidence she was “really hurt” by the leak of information from a later private Instagram post featuring Mr Rooney that she did not want to make public amid difficulties in their marriage.
– The mother-of-four adds in her written statement that she is glad she “put an end” to Mrs Vardy allegedly leaking other people’s information after her bid to catch the person “betraying” her “red-handed”.
– Returning to the witness box, Mrs Rooney tells the High Court she wanted “totally untrue” story about a so-called gender selection procedure to be published as “evidence” for her sting operation to discover the source of leaked stories.
– Mrs Rooney claims she suspected Mrs Vardy was the source of a story about herself and her husband securing a babysitter, with the court hearing she alleged to a PR that Mrs Vardy was “fame hungry”.
– Messages between Mrs Vardy and her agent about Mrs Rooney were “evil and uncalled for”, the former England captain’s wife tells the court.
– Former Football Association family liaison officer Harpreet Robertson provides evidence over two guests of Mrs Vardy allegedly being “rude and abusive” to her during a Euro 2016 match.
– Mrs Robertson claims Mrs Vardy’s evidence about why she sat behind Mrs Rooney at the England versus Wales game – that Mrs Rooney and family were in her seats and she took the nearest available to avoid a “fuss” – was “simply untrue”.
– Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy attends the trial alongside his wife for the first time and hears evidence from Wayne Rooney over an alleged “awkward” conversation with him about Mrs Vardy at the Euro 2016 tournament.
– Mr Rooney claims in court he was asked by then England manager Roy Hodgson to speak to Mr Vardy about getting his wife to “calm down”, adding in written evidence that the FA considered her media activities were causing “problems and distractions”.
– The court hears that impact of the period following his wife’s “reveal” post had been “traumatic” for her and that Mr Rooney had watch her become “a different mother” and “a different wife”.
– Experts are also called to give evidence over issues relating to the data from Mrs Vardy’s and Mrs Rooney’s phones, with Matthew Blackband claiming he believed there was a “high probability” that “manual deletion” explained the loss of messages from Mrs Vardy’s device.
– Mr and Mrs Rooney are absent for the first time, with their barrister explaining they had a “long-standing travel arrangement with their four children” which was booked when it was thought the trial would finish on Wednesday.
– Mrs Vardy arrived alone but left court about 30 minutes after the hearing started.
– In closing submissions, Mr Sherborne says the case is “extraordinary” for many reasons, adding that Ms Watt’s absence from the case is like “Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark”.
– Mr Tomlinson tells the court Mrs Rooney’s case is “based on Mrs Vardy being party to an extraordinarily elaborate, convoluted and cunning conspiracy to mislead the court”.
– Mrs Vardy’s barrister also says that his client has received abuse from thousands of people on social media, including during the trial itself.
– Mrs Justice Steyn indicates that she will give her decision at a later date.