Wagatha Christie: inside the most compelling libel trial of the century

    Coleen Rooney has emerged victorious from a memorable High Court libel battle with fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy.

    She called out Vardy for leaking stories to the media and is now armed with a High Court ruling saying she was right. Amid the utterly compelling legal drama, scandal and intrigue of Wagatha Christie, Vardy’s penchant for leaking information to journalists was painfully exposed.

    At the start the saga Rooney’s barrister exclaimed “why on earth are we here?” Let’s find out.

    Coleen ‘Roodunnit’ Rooney

    Coleen Rooney kicked off this epic tussle with her explosive social media reveal in October 2019, telling the world she had been sleuthing to find out who was leaking stories from her private Instagram account to The Sun. The payoff, “It’s… Rebekah Vardy’s account”, instantly entered pop culture folklore and “Wagatha Christie” was born.

    When lawyers combed through Coleen’s phone, they came across memes with her face photoshopped into a classic Scooby Doo reveal and mocked-up as Miss Marple. But the mother-of-four insisted she took no pleasure in the global media storm that has ensued. “I just think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “To be honest with you, I’ve hated every minute.”

    Coleen, wearing a bejewelled bracelet bearing the names of her four sons, was armed with her trusty notebook and red Anya Hindmarch pencil case throughout the legal battle, taking furious notes as Vardy endured more than three days in the witness box. Vardy had many questions to answer about reams of texts which seemed to suggest she had been leaking stories to The Sun, delivering her answers under the withering glare of Coleen who sat just a few feet away.

    On the third day of the trial, with tensions already high, Vardy dodged questions about whether she had contemplated using the anniversary of Rooney’s sister Rosie’s death as a ruse to get in touch and find out information. The atmosphere in the Victorian wood-panelled courtroom surroundings turned even frostier. The warring Wags carefully choreographed their entrances and exits from court to avoid each other, but came face-to-face momentarily on day four. Neither dropped their gaze. Like this titanic court battle, neither was going to back down.

    Rebekah Vardy leaves the Royal Courts Of Justice

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    ‘It’s… Rebekah Vardy’

    Rebekah Vardy was not the defendant in this bout of Wag warfare but that was easily forgotten as she faced a grilling over staged paparazzi photos, tip-offs, her 2004 kiss-and-tell on Peter Andre, and allegations she was “fame-hungry”. This is about “clearing my name”, she insisted on day one, but Vardy faced a barrage of claims that she is a habitual mole in the footballers’ wives nest and told a string of lies in court.

    “If I’m honest…,” Vardy started one answer, allowing Rooney’s barrister to reply laconically: “I would much rather you are honest because you are sitting in a witness box under oath.” Chastened, with her hands clasped in her lap, Vardy muttered back: “I understand that.” Vardy, decked out in designer outfits in contrast to Rooney’s £32.99 Zara dresses, cut a lonely figure towards the end of her evidence, sobbing over online abuse, and having to be tearfully helped across court by her solicitor and into the embrace of her legal team when the ordeal was over.

    Now that the ruling has been delivered, Vardy has to contend with a new torrent of publicity about her ‘inconceivable’ and unreliable evidence and the conclusion that the libel battle was a dreadfully misconceived gamble.

    Rebekah Vardy

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    In the unfamiliar surroundings of the Royal Courts of Justice, England’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney was in an unusual spot — as the supporting act for his wife and largely unable to influence the game. He grimaced as she recalled troubles in their marriage, his “bad behaviour”, and a drink-drive arrest with another woman in the car.

    Rooney silently fumed when Vardy’s barrister — trying to make a point about Coleen having no proof that Vardy was the leak — made a jibe about his recently relegated football club — “What you believe isn’t evidence,” he said. “You may believe Derby County will win the Premiership in two years’ time, but it’s not evidence they are going to.”

    Hunched forward through hours of evidence, idly cracking his knuckles to keep busy, and — ever the sportsman — keeping himself constantly hydrated with glass after glass of water, Rooney appeared uninterested in proceedings. But when he finally came off the bench, it was quite the opposite. “It’s been a long week,” he said when asked about his experience in court, stifling a chuckle as he revealed just how little he knew about the whole saga. “This is the first time I’ve heard anything in the case. I’ve never really discussed it with my wife. This is the first time I’ve really had an understanding of how it’s all happened.”

    Coleen and Wayne Rooney leave the Royal Courts Of Justice

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    The other Vardy

    Husband Jamie, who has been scoring goals for Leicester recently, was notably absent for most of the trial but belatedly made an appearance in court on the final day of evidence, as Wayne recalled an incident at Euro 2016 when he says he had to tell Rebekah — through Jamie — to “calm down” and stop distracting from the football. When Wayne suggested Jamie Vardy talked to his wife so much on FaceTime during the tournament she might as well have been in the squad, her eyes widened and a smile of incredulity spread across her face. Jamie, not called as a witness, later told reporters his former team-mate was “talking nonsense” about Euro 2016. Another mystery for Wagatha to solve, perhaps?

    Rebekah and Jamie Vardy arrive at the Royal Courts Of Justice

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    Battle of the barristers

    In Rooney’s camp for the £3 million court battle was David Sherborne, a “barrister to the stars” with clients including Johnny Depp, Sir Elton John and Kate Moss. Armed with a folder marked “Vardy lies” and incredulous that Vardy’s agent Caroline Watt’s phone had fallen off the side of a boat into the North Sea, Sherborne was determined to make hay. “It’s in Davy Jones’s locker,” he quipped to the bewildered Vardy.

    The Oxford-educated lawyer relished pulling out tabloid exposés of yesteryear, reading large chunks of Vardy’s kiss-and-tell on poor Peter Andre where she recall his “chipolata trouser equipment”.

    This being a very 21st-century trial, Sherborne proudly boasted that his younger, junior barrister Ben Hamer had mastered the art of social media and was reliably tech-savvy. “Yes, I know, he followed me on Twitter,” said Vardy with disdain, when Hamer’s digital prowess came up.

    On the other side of the aisle was top privacy specialist Hugh Tomlinson QC, another Oxford graduate who boasts Prince Charles, the Beckhams, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs as past clients. Leeds-born Tomlinson is no stranger to media machinations as a board member of lobby group Hacked Off. Charlotte Harris, another Hacked Off veteran and partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, was Vardy’s constant companion and shoulder to cry on.

    Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Coleen Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne (right) questioning Rebekah Vardy as she gives evidence at the Royal Courts Of Justice

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    The big reveals

    On the second day, we heard that after Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater was caught drink driving, Vardy and Ms Watt plotted to get information to journalists just as the footballer emerged from a police cell. “I want paying for this,” said Vardy, who suggested this was merely a “fleeting” thought when her main concern was the public interest of the story. Later the same day, focus shifted to footballer Riyad Mahrez’s 2018 effort to force a move away from Leicester, when Vardy’s texts with Ms Watt were uncomfortably stark: “Lads are fuming,” says Vardy. “Just don’t want it coming back on me.” When Ms Watt names a reporter and says she can “tell someone”, Vardy replied: “Yeah do it x”.

    On the third day, Vardy was unable to offer a public interest explanation for her agent suggesting passing information from Rooney’s private Instagram account to journalist Andy Halls. “I don’t think she was passing on new information,” said Vardy, while accepting she had known what was afoot. ”It is obvious”, concluded the judge “that Ms Vardy provided information that she had derived from the private Instagram Account to Ms Watt, in the knowledge that Ms Watt would provide it to a journalist from The Sun.”

    Big moments

    Mr Tomlinson opened the trial with an attack on the media and public using this case for entertainment. But when the world is at war and the economy in the toilet, High Court tales of WAGs giving a paparazzi photographer the run around at the 2018 World Cup and barristers struggling to distinguish between different emojis can be nothing but entertaining. “I don’t know if they are laughing or crying”, said Vardy as they picked over her messages to Ms Watt. “It looks like laughing to me”, said Sherborne, before being corrected by the ever-young Mr Hamer. “Oh! It’s crying with laughter.” When, during the third day of her evidence Vardy conceded she didn’t challenge her agent for leaking a story to the media, she blamed it on being distracted by Gemma Collins “faceplanting” on Dancing on Ice and hadn’t thought again about the alleged leak. “Without wanting to make fun of anyone….”, she said, before revealing this nugget of comedy gold. The exchanges between Vardy and Sherborne, grew increasingly fractious as the hours wore on, leading to a bizarre dispute over who has a higher celebrity ranking – her or Ant Middleton from SAS Who Dares Wins: “I wouldn’t say I was important”, Vardy modestly concluded.

    “Why on earth are we here?”, asked Sherborne. Answer: To get to the bottom of the most compelling – and trivial – mystery in modern times. When Vardy was called to give evidence, without irony she told the court: “It’s….Rebekah Vardy”. Now we know she gave the game away right there and then.

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