Judgment was handed down today in the case of Vardy v Rooney  EWHC 2017 (QB). The case has captured the public’s imagination with its unique mix of social media sleuthing, footballer’s wives’ gossip, and insight into the murky world of tabloid journalism. The eagerly awaited decision in the ‘Wagatha Christie’ case fell in favour of the Defendant, Mrs Coleen Rooney.
Mrs Justice Steyn DBE found that Mrs Rooney’s now infamous social media post about Mrs Vardy was ‘substantially true’. Mrs Vardy’s claim was therefore dismissed. The alternative public interest defence advanced by Mrs Rooney’s team was rejected, but that will be of little solace to Mrs Vardy given the success of the ‘truth’ defence.
The Court noted gaps in the Claimant’s evidence, most notably the absence of witness evidence from her agent, Ms Caroline Watt. The Court inferred that the Claimant’s decision not to call Ms Watt was in part motivated by an assessment that her evidence would likely have undermine the case. The Court further determined that the loss of crucial WhatsApp evidence between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt was deliberate rather than accidental. Mrs Vardy’s team had claimed at trial that Ms Watts’ mobile phone had been accidentally lost in the North Sea.
The case highlights the importance of considering other options for dispute resolution, or indeed the possibility of walking away from a dispute and leaving it unresolved. It is another reminder that Court proceedings should always be a last resort and that if you are determined to go all the way to trial, you must be very confident in the merits of your case and, in particular, have the evidence at hand to back it up. Mrs Vardy said during the trial that she had ‘no other option’ but to bring these proceedings, but no doubt she will be reflecting heavily on that decision. It is clear that the trial process was a traumatic one for Mrs Vardy. As well as the emotional toll, she will now have to face paying a hefty costs bill to Mrs Rooney, as well as bearing her own substantial legal costs.
This is the second high-profile celebrity High Court libel case in recent times after Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 2911 (QB), in which the claimant (the American actor Johnny Depp) also failed to succeed in proving he had been defamed. Mr Depp was subsequently able to achieve a different result in separate and even more high-profile proceedings in the US. Unfortunately for Mrs Vardy, it is unlikely she will be able to avail herself of a similar path to redemption in a different jurisdiction.
Our defamation department has experience on behalf of both claimants and defendants and are always happy to consider new enquiries.