Between Johnny Depp’s stomach-churning trial against Amber Heard and Blac Chyna’s against the Kardashians, it’s been a big spring for celebrity defamation cases. Both of these have been pretty miserable to watch: The Depp/Heard trial has brought allegations of sexual assault with a liquor bottle, photos of a severed finger, and the spectacle of a case about domestic violence being spun into meme fodder. Blac Chyna’s defamation suit against the Kardashians was less dark, but not by all that much: Chyna was accused of holding a gun to the head of her ex, Rob Kardashian, whom she has accused in turn of releasing nude photos of her without her consent.
However, there’s a libel case unfolding in the UK that offers all the intrigue of a high-drama courtroom battle without any of the high stakes. It involves Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, two WAGs (wives and girlfriends), or women primarily famous for their relationships with soccer players (“footballers,” to put it in beans-on-toast.) The two are waging a very expensive legal battle against each other over supposed social media snitching and tabloid tale-telling. It’s also been given perhaps the best name ever bestowed on a courtroom feud: the WAGatha Christie case. Let’s dive in.
Why are the WAGs at war?
It began, like so many terrible and engrossing things, with a tweet. In 2019, Rooney, who’s married to hair transplant icon Wayne Rooney, posted what can only be described as a classic: “For a few years now someone who I trusted to follow me on my personal Instagram account has been consistently informing The SUN newspaper of my private posts and stories,” she wrote, explaining that, in order to find the rat, she blocked almost all of her around 300 followers from viewing her stories, except for the suspected culprit. Then, she posted what she called “a series of false stories”—ranging from reporting that her basement had flooded to saying that she was headed to Mexico to explore IVF with sex selection in hopes of conceiving a baby girl—to see if they made it into the tabloid. When they did, Rooney alleged that she’d discovered the identity of the leaker: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. It’s ……….Rebekah Vardy.”
The scheming, the detective work (which birthed the punny WAGatha Christie), the intensely dramatic overlong ellipsis—it could have all ended here, and it would have been a great story. But Vardy, who is married to a player named Jamie Vardy, was not about to let Rooney’s “j’accuse” stand. So she sued her for libel, alleging that Rooney’s post caused her “extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment” and left her “feeling suicidal.” The two women are currently battling it out in London’s High Court.
What are the legal arguments?
Vardy scored an early victory last year when a judge ruled that Rooney’s post “clearly identified” Vardy as the source of the leak. Rooney was ordered to pay court fees to the tune of £23,000 (around $28,000) and, in order to win the broader case, had to prove that Vardy personally fed the stories to the Sun, or that her social media accusation was somehow in the public interest. (Rooney’s lawyers had argued that she’d intended her social media post to mean that anyone who had access to Vardy’s Instagram account could have been behind the leaks, but the judge nixed that one.)
They were then supposed to try to settle out of court, but that clearly didn’t work. Proving that only Vardy herself could have been the leaker is apparently a pretty steep legal mountain for Rooney to climb, and it’s what the two sides are debating during this week’s bench trial, which will be decided by a judge.
So what’s going on in court?
A lot. But much of it is focusing on Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, who also had access to Vardy’s Instagram account. Vardy admitted, under cross-examination, that she was aware that Watt was telling the Sun information gleaned from Rooney’s social media accounts—but she insisted that she thought the tabloid had first heard the news elsewhere and that Watt wasn’t the original source.
According to the Guardian:
In one WhatsApp exchange heard by the court, Watt told Vardy that the Sun journalist was trying to confirm details for a story he was writing about Rooney. The agent asked Vardy whether Rooney had definitely crashed her car, a detail that allegedly came from the private Instagram account. She replied with the words: “Haha she deffo did.”
When Rooney later tweeted that one of her followers was “betraying” her and leaking to the tabloids, Watt sent the tweet to Vardy with the comment, “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me.” (She added the crying-laughing emoji.)
“Vardy told the court she didn’t reply because she was ‘watching Gemma Collins faceplanting on ice’ on the ITV show Dancing on Ice,” the Guardian reported.
It’s tough to get a full picture of Watt’s communications, because shortly after it was announced that the court wanted to see the contents of her phone, it was apparently lost at sea thanks to an unfortunate incident with an ill-timed wave. According to Rooney’s lawyer, this makes it tough to tell whether or not Watt was passing stories to tabloid reporters: “We will never know because her phone sits at the bottom of the North Sea,” he said in court this week.
Vardy also admitted that she’d attempted to leak an entirely different story to the Sun, one about another football player, Danny Drinkwater, who’d been arrested for drunk driving. (Yes, this story really involves a guy named Drinkwater who was arrested for drunk driving.) According to Rooney’s lawyers, Vardy messaged Watt details of the case and included the admirably blunt message, “I want paying for this x”—apparently suggesting that she wanted the tabloid to pay for her story.
When the pair learned that someone else had beaten them to selling the story, Vardy wrote: “fuming I didn’t give it to you earlier.” Watt helpfully suggested a paparazzi agency that Vardy could hit up instead. Vardy said that this instance was the only time she attempted to sell a story to the tabloid press. Those other WhatsApp conversations she and Watt had about leaking stories about celebs? Just jokes!
Rooney’s attorney argues that Vardy was in the habit of giving stories to Watt, so that the agent, rather than Vardy herself, could leak them. Vardy’s team, meanwhile, has said that Watt may have been the leaker, but if so, Vardy didn’t know anything about it.
At one point during the cross-examination, Vardy began an answer by saying, “If I’m honest...” to which Rooney’s attorney replied, “I would hope you’re honest, because you’re sitting in a witness box.” Saucy!
Does any of this really matter?
Nope! That’s what makes it all so great.