Reality TV star Rebekah Vardy lost her lawsuit against TV personality Coleen Rooney at London’s High Court on Friday in a case that highlights how social media has become a new battleground for defamation lawsuits.
the judge it failed in favor of Rooneyputting an end to the dramatic case – called “Wagatha Christie” – centered on the wives of the two footballers that has generated world headlines and stories of intrigue in the tabloids.
The high-profile lawsuit was brought by Vardy, who is married to Leicester City player Jamie Vardy, against Rooney, wife of Wayne Rooney, a former Manchester United and England captain.
Vardy had tried to clear his name after Rooney ran a “sting operation” three years ago to establish the source of leaks from his private Instagram account. In October 2019, Rooney accused Vardy of leaking stories about his private life to The Sun newspaper.
In her ruling, Judge Steyn found that, on the balance of probabilities, Vardy had leaked the story about Rooney to the press.
The case lasted seven days and generated a media circus, with lawyers examining pages of WhatsApp exchanges and debating the meaning of the emojis used there.
According to legal experts, it has illuminated social media as the new frontier of defamation law where everyone is a publisher.
“Twitter matters are increasingly becoming a part of our litigation landscape,” said Matthew Dando, litigator and media law specialist at Wiggin. “The usual laws apply [online] from a defamation perspective.”
“But you get much more shot-from-the-hip accusations . . . and things like emojis complicate meanings,” he added.
WhatsApp messages exchanged between Rooney and Vardy containing emojis were examined as evidence during the hearing, prompting the judge to consider the meaning of the pictograms commonly used in texts.
These considerations have become more relevant as celebrities increasingly use platforms like Instagram to set their own news agendas, bypassing traditional media.
In 2019, Rooney created an elaborate trap on Instagram by posting a series of fake stories and then restricting the number of followers who could see them, waiting to see if the stories appeared in the press, until only Vardy was left as a suspect.
Coleen Rooney arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in May © John Sibley/Reuters
The case is estimated to have cost millions of pounds in legal fees and has highlighted the use of London courts and England’s libel laws by the rich and powerful to settle their personal battles.
The judge said Vardy, along with his agent Caroline Watt, were “complicit in the dissemination to The Sun” of false stories, for example one about Rooney taking a trip to Mexico to undergo a “selection of gender” to have a girl. , and a piece about basement flooding.
Judge Steyn said it was “likely” that Watt “undertook the direct act” of passing stories to the press, but that Vardy “knew and condoned” the conduct. He added that it was likely Watt “deliberately dropped his phone into the sea” to avoid handing over messages requested by the court.
Defamation litigation generates high fees for London law firms. Rooney and Vardy’s legal bills are likely to exceed £1 million. Vardy could now be forced to pay Rooney’s costs, due to the “loser pays” rule in English civil litigation. The total will be determined at a later hearing.
Rooney said in a statement that she was “delighted” that the ruling had been in her favor, but that she “never believed” that the case should have gone to court “at the expense of such a difficult time for so many people when the money could have been.” Invest much better in helping others”.