The ‘Wagatha Christie’ Libel Trial
Author: Emily John
Key Contact: Aisha Wardell
Rebekah Vardy is suing Coleen Rooney for libel after Coleen accused her of leaking stories to a UK newspaper. The case which has attracted significant publicity is due to end at the High Court in London today.
Defamation is a false statement (which can be either oral or written) about another individual that unjustly harms their reputation. Libel is the written form of defamation. In this case, the alleged defamatory publication is Coleen’s infamous Twitter post that prompted her the ‘Wagatha Christie’ nickname. Rebekah is suing Coleen for damage caused to her reputation due to Coleen’s publication.
In October 2019, Coleen believed that someone was leaking information from her private Instagram stories to a UK newspaper. After carrying out her own ‘Wagatha Christie’ sting operation, Coleen revealed via twitter that the person responsible was ‘Rebekah Vardy’s account’. The chosen statement ‘Rebekah Vardy’s account’ was something Coleen later attempted to rely on as part of her defence.
Rebekah denied personal responsibility for leaking any statements to the press as alleged by Coleen and has stated that her Instagram account was accessible to others. Rebekah issued libel proceedings against Coleen on 12 June 2020, claiming damages, an injunction and an order that Coleen herself publish a summary of the courts judgment . It was then agreed by the parties that the Court should consider the natural and ordinary meaning of the infamous post as a preliminary issue.
The case continued
On 20 November 2020, Justice Warby ruled in favour of Rebekah after the libel preliminary hearing at the High Court in London which took place on 19 November 2020. The pair were given until 8 February 2021 to attempt to mediate their case. This decision highlighted a tension when determining ‘meaning’ between considering the specific drafting of the allegedly defamatory statement, and the ability to look at the statement as a whole. This is why Coleen’s defence of the chosen word ‘account’ was specifically rejected. Justice Warby stated the ordinary reader would likely attach very little weight to the specific use of the word ‘account’, and allowing this defence would largely dilute Rebekah’s allegations.
Following the earlier ruling, it will be up to Coleen to prove Rebekah was personally responsible for leaking stories to The Sun (or authorising another to do the same on her behalf), or alternatively to persuade the judge that publication of the allegation was in the public interest. Ultimately, Coleen must prove that her accusations were substantially true.
The reality of this case is that legal costs now far outweigh the likely damages which would be awarded were Rebekah to succeed. It is often the case in Defamation proceedings that damages is but one part of the remedies sought to repair a party’s reputation.
If you would like advice on any of the issues raised in this article, speak to our Litigation Team today.