The influencer wife of a major Premier League soccer star has been ordered to pay millions in legal fees to her rival after losing a libel case.
Rebekah Vardy, the wife of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, had sued Colleen Rooney, the wife of former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney (who is currently the manager of the MLS soccer club D.C. United), for libel after Colleen alleged in a 2019 tweet that Rebekah had been leaking stories about her to the British tabloids. (Both men also played for England's national team together.)
Colleen's allegations came after a "sting" in which she said that she blocked everyone but Rebekah from viewing her Instagram Stories and proceeded to plant false information in them. The fake stories, including that she and her husband were engaging in gender selection in order to have a daughter and that their house had flooded were, indeed, published in The Sun — as had a number of stories beforehand.
As a result of the sting, Colleen was dubbed "WAGatha Christie," a portmanteau of "WAG" — "wives and girlfriends" of famous soccer players who parlay their status into tabloid fame and influencer status — and British mystery author Agatha Christie. She was widely believed.
Rebekah denied being the leaker in a tweet, claiming that multiple people had access to her personal Instagram account, which she said had also been hacked. In a subsequent interview with the British tabloid The Daily Mail, she claimed to have been hurt by the allegations but suggested it would be pointless to argue with her former friend.
"That would be like arguing with a pigeon," she told the paper. "You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it's still going to s–t in your hair."
In June 2020, Rebekah sued Colleen for libel under the U.K.'s notoriously strict legal regime, in which Colleen would be forced to prove not just that she just believed Rebekah was the leaker, but that Rebekah had actually been the one been leaking the information to the tabloids.
The trial began in May 2022, with both women testifying against one another and available evidence showed that Vardy's then-agent, Caroline Watt, had been given information by Rebekah from Colleen's private Instagram account with suggestions that it be passed to the tabloids and that it could earn Rebekah money, the BBC reported at the time.
However, Watt was excused from testifying after a forensic psychiatrist said she was mentally unfit to do so, the broadcaster reported. And, most infamously, Watt claimed to have accidentally dropped her phone into the North Sea in August 2021 — after it was requested as evidence, according to The Independent — deleting many records of her half of the correspondence between the two women at the time of the allegations.
Many of the records from Rebekah's phone were also lost before the trial, The Guardian reported, after an expert who retrieved them from her phone and subsequently encrypted them lost the password.
Colleen's lawyers argued, ultimately successfully, that British legal precedent meant that the court must assume that the missing evidence "is of the highest possible value that would fit," The Guardian reported.
In July, the courts ruled against Rebekah, the BBC reported, calling Colleen's allegations that Rebekah leaked stories about her to The Sun "substantially true" and referring to Colleen as "an honest and reliable witness."
On the other hand, the judge found that, while Watt may have been the person directly giving the information to The Sun's reporters, "in my view, that Mrs. Vardy knew of and condoned this behavior, actively engaging in it." She added of Rebekah that "significant parts of her evidence were not credible," calling it "evasive or implausible" and "manifestly inconsistent."
The judge also did not find the story about Watt dropping her phone in the North Sea before evidence could be collected from it particularly plausible.
"I have found that Ms Vardy and Ms Watt have deliberately deleted or destroyed evidence," the judge said. "In my judgment, it is likely that Ms Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt, and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea."
She added that Vardy's practice of using her agent to leak stories about her then-frenemy to the tabloids was "unthinking rather than part of a considered and concerted business practice."
It was clear from the result of the trial that Rebekah would be forced to pay some of Colleen's legal fees. Though her lawyers' final tally is not yet in, the courts have now ruled that Rebekah owes 90 percent of Colleen's lawyers' fees in the case — which would be at least $1.7 million, according to the BBC.
Rebekah will be allowed to pay in installments, with the first payment of around $915,000 due on November 15. She does maintain the right to appeal the percentage of the award.
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