Rebekah Vardy had ‘no choice’ but to sue Coleen Rooney for libel to ‘vindicate her reputation’, her barrister told the High Court today as the £3million ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial finally got underway.
Both WAGs sat 10ft apart on the front row of the courtroom, with Coleen, 36, accompanied by former England star Wayne, while Rebekah, 40, was without her Leicester City striker husband, Jamie, 35.
Introducing the case, Rebekah’s barrister, Hugh Tomlinson QC, said his client ‘had no choice’ but to bring the libel claim against Coleen Rooney to ‘establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation’.
He said Rebekah and her family had been ‘subjected to abuse and threats’ over the accusations, including being ‘jeered and heckled at football matches’ and ‘made the butt of endless jokes’.
The WAGS have been at war since October 2019 after Coleen accused Rebekah of leaking ‘false stories’ about her private life, before claiming that she uncovered the culprit after carrying out a social media ‘sting operation’.
Coleen publicly claimed her fellow footballer’s wife shared three fake stories she had posted on her personal Instagram with The Sun, a claim Rebekah vehemently denied – leading her to launch the costly libel action.
Today, Coleen’s barrister, David Sherborne QC, told the court the case was ‘essentially about betrayal’.
He outlined two scenarios, the first being that Rebekah betrayed Coleen by leaking stories about her; or that Rebekah’s agent, Caroline Watt, betrayed Rebekah by leaking stories about Coleen without her knowledge.
Today, Coleen walked into court wearing a plastic boot after fracturing her leg during a fall at her home in March, followed 30 seconds’ later by Rebekah, who was accompanied by two security guards.
Both women are expected to give evidence in court, as well as Wayne himself. The court earlier heard Ms Watt was ‘not fit to give evidence’ due to health reasons.
Coleen is believed to have agreed for a Netflix documentary to be filmed around her side of the case – reflecting the intense public interest in the proceedings.
Among the key developments at today’s sensational Wagatha Christie showdown –
- Rebekah’s barrister says she ‘had no choice’ but to bring the libel claim against Coleen to ‘establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation’;
- He tells court she has been ‘jeered and heckled at football matches’ and ‘made the butt of endless jokes’ since the allegations emerged;
- Called ‘an evil rat face b****’ on social media, with posts going on to say she ‘should die’ and ‘her baby should be put in an incinerator’;
- Coleen’s famous Instagram sting was not a ‘careful investigation’ that produced ‘irrefutable’ evidence as she suggested, Rebekah’s barrister adds;
- Rebekah ‘has no knowledge’ of incident that saw agent Caroline Watt’s phone fall into the North Sea and ‘doesn’t know’ if she was a leaker;
- Coleen’s barrister, David Sherborne, tells court the case hinges on ‘betrayal’ – whether it was by Rebekah who betrayed Coleen by leaking information to The Sun or Coleen’s agent, Caroline Watt, who was responsible;
- Mrs Justice Steyn grants an 11th-hour appeal by Coleen’s lawyers to introduce evidence from a new witness, FA liaison officer Harpreet Robertson;
Coleen Rooney, wife of Derby County manager Wayne Rooney, arrives with her husband at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this morning
Rebekah Vardy pulled up in a black cab today accompanied by two security guards. Her husband, Jamie, was not among the entourage
Coleen was seen wearing a plastic air boot on her left leg today after she suffered a fracture following a fall at her home in March
Rebekah – pictured today – is being represented by Ian Tomlinson. He became a QC in 2002, and is a board member of campaign group Hacked Off
Today saw the toxic feud between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy spill out into the High Court after months of painstaking pre-trial hearings.
Below is a summary of the evidence as it was heard in court:
Wagatha Christie timeline: How Coleen and Rebekah’s long-running, vicious war unfolded before the eyes of the world
September 2017 to October 2019 – The Sun runs a number of articles about Coleen, including that she travelled to Mexico to look into baby ‘gender selection’ treatment, her plan to revive her TV career and the flooding of her basement.
October 9, 2019 – Coleen uses social media to accuse Rebekah of selling stories from her private Instagram account to the tabloids.
Coleen says she spent five months attempting to work out who was sharing information about her and her family based on posts she had made on her personal social media page.
After sharing a series of ‘false’ stories and using a process of elimination, Coleen claims they were viewed by one Instagram account, belonging to Rebekah.
Rebekah, then pregnant with her fifth child, denies the allegations and says various people had access to her Instagram over the years.
She claims to be ‘so upset’ by Coleen’s accusation, later adding: ‘I thought she was my friend but she completely annihilated me.’
The public dispute makes headlines around the world, with the hashtag #WagathaChristie trending.
How it all began: On October 9, 2019, Coleen Rooney, now 36, accused Rebekah Vardy, 40, of leaking ‘false stories’ about her to the press in an Instagram post (above)
Shortly after Coleen’s public accusation, Rebekah – who was pregnant and on holiday in Dubai at the time – denied any involvement (above)
February 13, 2020 – In a tearful appearance on ITV’s Loose Women, Rebekah says the stress of the dispute caused her to have severe anxiety attacks and she ‘ended up in hospital three times’.
Coleen says in a statement that she does not want to ‘engage in further public debate’.
June 23, 2020 – It emerges that Rebekah has launched libel proceedings against Coleen.
Rebekah’s lawyers allege she ‘suffered extreme distress, hurt, anxiety and embarrassment as a result of the publication of the post and the events which followed’.
November 19-20, 2020 – The libel battle has its first High Court hearing in London.
A judge rules that Coleen’s October 2019 post ‘clearly identified’ Rebekah as being ‘guilty of the serious and consistent breach of trust’.
Mr Justice Warby concludes that the ‘natural and ordinary’ meaning of the posts was that Rebekah had ‘regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Coleen’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun of Coleen’s private posts and stories’.
February 8-9, 2022 – A series of explosive messages between Rebekah and her agent Caroline Watt – which Coleen’s lawyers allege were about her – are revealed at a preliminary court hearing.
The court is told Rebekah was not referring to Coleen when she called someone a ‘nasty bitch’ in one exchange with Ms Watt.
Coleen’s lawyers seek further information from the WhatsApp messages, but the court is told that Ms Watt’s phone fell into the North Sea after a boat she was on hit a wave, before further information could be extracted from it.
February 14 – Coleen is refused permission to bring a High Court claim against Ms Watt for misuse of private information to be heard alongside the libel battle.
A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Steyn, says the bid was brought too late and previous opportunities to make the claim had not been taken.
April 13 – Ms Watt is not fit to give oral evidence at the upcoming libel trial, the High Court is told as the case returns for another hearing.
The agent revokes permission for her witness statement to be used, and withdraws her waiver which would have allowed Sun journalists to say whether she was a source of the allegedly leaked stories.
April 29 – Rebekah ‘appears to accept’ that her agent was the source of allegedly leaked stories, Coleen’s barrister David Sherborne tells the High Court.
He argues that a new witness statement submitted by Rebekah suggests Ms Watt was the source but Rebekah claims she ‘did not authorise or condone her’.
Rebekah’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson says the statement did not contain ‘any change whatever in the pleaded case’, with her legal team having no communication with Ms Watt.
Rebekah ‘had to vindicate her reputation’ following Coleen’s ‘so-called careful investigation’
Today, Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Rebekah, began setting out her case to the court.
At the heart of the dispute are three ‘fake’ stories which Coleen maintains that she posted on her personal Instagram stories as she attempted to discover who was leaking information about her and her family.
These were about Coleen claiming that she was travelling to Mexico to find out about gender selection, making a return to TV and flooding taking place at her new home. All three stories later appeared in The Sun.
Mr Tomlinson said that, on October 9, 2019, Coleen published a post to more than two million followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook which ‘accused Mrs Vardy of being the person who, over a period of years, had consistently and regularly leaked information about her, her friends and her family, to The Sun newspaper’.
He told the court ‘it was expressed in a dramatic style’, referring to the way Mrs Rooney posted ‘It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account’.
Addressing the Instagram post, Rebekah’s barrister, Mr Tomlinson, told the High Court today: ‘The allegation in the post was and remains false: Mrs Vardy had not leaked information about Mrs Rooney or her friends and family to the Sun newspaper from her private Instagram account.
‘Mrs Rooney did not have the ‘irrefutable’ evidence that she claimed to have had: her so-called ‘careful investigation’ was nothing of the sort.
‘If anyone had been leaking information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram this was not done with Mrs Vardy’s knowledge or approval.’
He continued: ‘Mrs Vardy made strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to settle the case but the post was not taken down.
‘As result, Mrs Vardy had no choice but to bring this libel action to establish her innocence and vindicate her reputation.’
Mr Tomlinson said Coleen said in the post that she had saved and screenshotted the original newspaper stories which showed that, as she claimed, Rebekah’s account had saved and shared her Instagram posts.
He told the court: ‘We say that this careful investigation was flawed from the start because it is obvious … anybody who knows anything about the operation of social media knows the fact somebody has an account does not necessarily mean that they are the only person who accessed it.’
He said the meaning of the post was that Mrs Rooney had made the accusation against Mrs Vardy.
Mr Tomlinson also said that Coleen had ‘revelled in’ being dubbed ‘Wagatha Christie’, and had shared posts which mocked her up as the renowned crime writer Agatha Christie.
Coleen’s Instagram post led to Rebekah being ‘abused, heckled at football matches and called an ”evil rat-faced b****”’
Mr Tomlinson said that, as a result of the post, Rebekah – who was seven months pregnant at the time – and her family were subjected to horrible abuse, including one post calling her an ‘evil rat-faced b****’ and others saying she should die and her baby should be ‘put in an incinerator’.
He said her husband Jamie Vardy was also subjected to chants about her during football matches.
Mr Tomlinson said: ‘The allegation was false, Mrs Vardy had not leaked information about Mrs Rooney, her friends and family to The Sun newspaper.’
He added that, if information was leaked ‘this was not something that was done with Mrs Vardy’s knowledge or authority’.
Mr Tomlinson said the affair and subsequent libel case had become the subject of intense press coverage and a source of ‘entertainment’ in the media, being referred to as ‘Wag Wars’ and ‘Wagatha Christie’.
He added: ‘This is far from being an entertaining case, it has been profoundly distressing and disturbing.’
He said Coleen’s post on Instagram was liked about 93,000 times while the Twitter post received more than 300,000 likes.
Mr Tomlinson added: ‘(Rebekah) needs to be able to clear her name through this case, so she can move on from this terrible episode.’
The court heard Rebekah had suffered ‘enormous distress and upset’ over the allegations.
Mr Tomlinson continued: ‘The fact that the parties are each married to well-known footballers has led to this action being trivialised in some media coverage as ‘WAG wars’.
‘The information alleged to have been leaked was, as Mrs Rooney admitted at the hearing on April 29, 2022, low value gossip.
‘Nevertheless, the impact of the post on Mrs Vardy was far from trivial. It has – as was inevitable given Mrs Rooney’s public profile and the sensational nature of the allegation made – been republished in the national media, and on social media on many thousands of occasions, to many millions of readers.
‘Although the media, as they are entitled to do, have turned this case into an entertainment it is not, from Mrs Vardy’s point of view, entertaining.
‘It has been, and continues to be, deeply upsetting in circumstances where she was not the person who leaked information about Mrs Rooney. Mrs Vardy needs to clear her name in order to ever be given a chance to move on from this horrendous episode.’
He added that it was ‘obvious that Mrs Vardy has suffered, and continues to suffer, enormous distress and upset as a result of its publication’.
‘As a result of the post, Mrs Vardy and her family were subjected to abuse and threats. She was jeered and heckled at football matches and was the butt of endless jokes and further accusations,’ he said.
Coleen’s barrister: ‘Case is essentially about betrayal’
Putting forward Coleen’s argument, David Sherborne QC suggested the libel case was ‘essentially about betrayal’
‘The central question that the court needs to decide now seems to be whether: it is Coleen Rooney that was betrayed by Rebekah Vardy because she knew Caroline Watt, her PR and close confidante, was leaking Mrs Rooney’s private information to The Sun and condoned this, as well as directly leaking information herself, or whether, instead, it is Mrs Vardy that was betrayed by Caroline Watt because she had leaked this information without Mrs Vardy knowing it and had lied to her by denying all along that she had leaked anything.’
Mr Sherborne added Mrs Rooney is defending the claim on truth and public interest grounds.
Rebekah ‘knew Coleen was ”posting fake stories” to see if they would be leaked’
Mr Tomlinson claimed Rebekah knew Coleen was ‘posting fake stories’ to see if they would be leaked to the media.
‘She did not directly leak any information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account to The Sun, nor did she do so indirectly by ‘approving or condoning’ anyone else to do so on her behalf,’ he said.
He said that the ‘candid’ WhatsApp messages previously heard in court between Mrs Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt show that while ‘from time to time they did discuss ‘leaking’ information to the press’ only one post is mentioned, in circumstances where journalists already knew the information.
Mr Tomlinson continued: ‘Furthermore, it is plain from the WhatsApp exchanges that Mrs Vardy was aware that Mrs Rooney was posting fake stories in order to see whether anyone would leak them, as well as the fact that she had previously been a suspect.
‘She, like Mrs Rooney, believed that someone was leaking information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram but didn’t know who it was and thought it must be her PR as she couldn’t see why anyone would be ‘arsed with selling stories on her’.’
Emerging from a black London cab, Rebekah arriving outside the steps of the High Court this morning for the start of the Wagatha Christie trial
Rebekah walks through a crowd of photographers towards the entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand
Rebekah – the wife of Leicester City strike Jamie Vardy – is photographed as she arrived in court today
Coleen bore a purposeful expression as she walked in to court this morning alongside her former England star husband
Coleen glances to one side as she walks into the entrance of the High Court carrying two handbags and wearing a plastic boot
Rebekah ‘has no knowledge’ of incident that saw agent Caroline Watt’s phone fall into the North Sea and ‘doesn’t know’ if she was a leaker
The court previously heard that Rebekah’s agent and friend Caroline Watt’s phone fell into the sea after a boat she was on hit a wave before further information could be extracted from it in August 2021.
Today, Mr Tomlinson said Rebekah ‘has no personal knowledge’ of the incident and ‘all she knows is what has been said by Ms Watt’.
‘It has not been suggested that Mrs Vardy had any involvement with this and it cannot possibly be relied on as evidence of wrongdoing by Mrs Vardy,’ he said.
The court heard from Mr Tomlinson that Ms Watt had recently withdrawn a witness statement from the trial in which she said she had not leaked stories.
Ms Watt also withdrew a waiver that might have allowed Sun journalists to say whether or not she was the source.
Mr Tomlinson said until these developments ‘Mrs Vardy believed that Ms Watt wasn’t the source of the leaks’.
‘She trusted her friend, that was Ms Watt’s own evidence,’ he said.
‘The result of all these developments is that Mrs Vardy doesn’t know what to think. She accepts that it’s possible that it may be that Ms Watt was the source of some or all of the stories.’
Mr Tomlinson added: ‘As Mrs Vardy’s PR, Ms Watt had access to her Instagram account.’
Mr Tomlinson said that if Ms Watt was the source of leaked stories ‘that’s not something that Mrs Vardy knew anything about and it’s certainly something that she did not approve of or authorise Ms Watt to do’.
He added that the developments around the agent ‘makes no change at all’ in Mrs Vardy’s pleaded case.
‘Her case is and always has been that she did not leak Mrs Rooney’s information from her private Instagram to the Sun, whether directly or using the agency of a third party’.
Mr Tomlinson added of Rebekah: ‘She’s not able to say of her friend, she was the leaker. She doesn’t know.’
Rebekah Vardy with her agent, Caroline Watt, who had been due to give evidence in the trial but was recently found to be ‘not fit’ to take part, also withdrawing her written evidence
Happier times: Rebekah and Coleen celebrating England’s win against Wales at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in France in 2016
Today, Rebekah’s barrister, Hugh Tomlinson, referenced these messages which the court heard had been shared between Rebekah and Caroline Watt in February 2019
From gender selection to a flooded basement: The ‘false’ stories Coleen claims to have planted on her Instagram during ‘sting’ operation
Three ‘false’ stories Coleen Rooney claims to have planted on her private Instagram account as part of a months-long ‘sting operation’ are at the heart of her libel battle with Rebekah Vardy.
Coleen accused her fellow footballer’s wife of leaking the information to the Sun newspaper in a now infamous social media post – something Rebekah denies.
Here, we look at what has been claimed about the stories:
The gender selection article
Coleen claims to have posted the first of her ‘sting operation’ posts about a so-called gender-selection treatment on April 8 2019.
The post featured a photograph of the back seat of an airplane overlaid with the text ‘Let’s go and see what this gender selection is all about’, Coleen claims.
She alleges that the invented post was marked on Instagram as ‘seen’ only by Rebekah’s account, her lawyers have told the High Court.
In August that year, the Sun published an article claiming Coleen travelled to Mexico to look into the treatment.
The story, carrying journalist Andy Halls’s byline, is headlined ‘COL’S BABY GIRL BID Coleen Rooney travelled to Mexico to look into £8k ‘gender selection’ treatment in desperate bid to have baby girl’.
The article, referring to ‘a source’ and ‘pals’, alleged Coleen is ‘so desperate for her fifth baby to be a girl’ that she wants to hear more about a process ‘in which doctors examine embryos in a lab before implanting only those of the desired gender back into the womb’.
TV decisions article
A private ‘false’ post about planning a return to TV is made on September 25 2019, Coleen claims.
She says it featured a ‘selfie’ and the text ‘Up and out!! Easing my way back into work!! TV decisions today…. maybe it’s time for Australia’.
Coleen’s lawyers claimed in her High Court defence that the post was only accessible by Rebekah’s account.
Three days later, a Sun article under Michael Hamilton’s byline was published under the headline ‘ROO-MBA Coleen Rooney in talks to join Strictly next year as she looks to revive TV career when Wayne returns to UK’.
It quoted an anonymous source and claimed to exclusively reveal Coleen was ‘locked in talks with producers’, planned to ‘front a fashion programme’ and ‘could well do’ the Strictly Come Dancing TV show.
The flooded basement article
Coleen says she shared false information about her basement being flooded on October 2 2019, the third ‘sting operation’ post.
Her lawyers have again alleged to the High Court that the post was only accessible to Rebekah’s account.
On October 8, The Sun published a story, with Simon Boyle’s byline, headlined: ‘IN ROO-INS Wayne and Coleen Rooney’s £20million ‘Morrisons mansion’ flooded during Storm Lorenzo’.
The article, quoting a ‘source close to the couple’, claimed to reveal that bad weather had ‘wreaked havoc’ at a Cheshire property, with Coleen being ‘called in to find the cellar had been flooded’.
Who’s who in the case? Former friends who had a bitter falling out, the former Virgin Atlantic air hostess, and the celebrity lawyers going head to head
The footballer’s wife bringing the claim, Rebekah’s family was thrust into the limelight after her husband Jamie helped Leicester City on their way to an unlikely Premier League win in 2016.
The model and TV personality, 40, appeared on I’m A Celebrity in 2017 before later appearing on Dancing On Ice in 2021, as well as making appearances on Loose Women.
The mother-of-five recently wrote a children’s book with her husband Jamie, entitled Cedric The Little Sloth With A Big Dream, which follows a little sloth who hopes to become a footballer.
Coleen, the footballer’s wife defending the claim, is perhaps now better known as ‘Wagatha Christie’ after her social media posts at the heart of the libel trial went viral.
The 36-year-old has had a varied career including TV presenting, writing, as well as fronting an exercise DVD.
Coleen met her husband when she was 12, as the couple went to the same school in Liverpool.
They began dating when they both turned 16 and have four sons together – Kai Wayne, Klay Anthony, Kit Joseph and Cass Mac.
Mrs Vardy’s friend and agent, Ms Watt has featured in some of the preliminary hearings, despite not being a party to the claim or giving evidence at the trial.
She is a former Virgin Atlantic air hostess who has been Rebekah’s agent for the past seven years, helping to build her profile in the national media.
Reports that she no longer represents her following the current controversy engulfing the two have been dismissed as inaccurate with Ms Watt remaining close to Ms Vardy both professionally and personally.
Ms Watt, 39, is married to former footballer Steve Watt, who played briefly for Chelsea, making one Premier League appearance for two minutes in 2005 and Swansea City. He is currently manager of Kent non-league side Hythe Town and they have two children.
After leaving the airline industry, Ms Watt began working as an agent in the world of entertainment, quickly developing a reputation for her communication skills and ability to network.
She was formerly employed by talent agency The Frontrow Partnership but left in 2019 to go it alone and took her main client and close friend, Ms Vardy with her.
Ms Watt has been credited with building Ms Vardy’s public profile by ensuring that she regularly featured in the national media and also brokered the deal for her to appear on the hit reality TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2018.
Ms Watt started representing the high-profile WAG in 2015, when her husband, Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy shot to fame.
She is a regular visitor to the Vardy’s Lincolnshire home and also socialises with Ms Vardy, attending glitzy parties and bars.
Her other clients include the former Page 3 girl Nicola McLean but it is Ms Vardy that has been the biggest asset in her career as an agent.
Hugh Tomlinson QC (left), who is representing Ms Vardy, is a top-flight privacy silk who has launched a number of battles with the Press in a wide-spanning career. David Sherborne (right), 53, is acting for Mrs Rooney
Hugh Tomlinson QC
An experienced media barrister, Mr Tomlinson is at the front of Mrs Vardy’s legal team in the libel case.
Called to the bar in 1983, his previous clients include the Prince of Wales in his legal battle against the Mail on Sunday over his diaries, easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Mr Tomlinson, who became a QC in 2002, is a board member of campaign group Hacked Off.
Mr Sherborne also has a reputation as the barrister the rich and famous turn to for legal assistance – his previous client list includes Diana, Princess of Wales, Hollywood actor Michael Douglas and former prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie.
Mrs Rooney’s barrister is no stranger to high-profile libel trials at the Royal Courts of Justice, notably representing Johnny Depp in the actor’s 2020 libel claim against the publisher of the Sun, News Group Newspapers (NGN).
The barrister, called to the bar in 1992, has also represented dozens of claimants, including celebrities, suing NGN over phone hacking at the News Of The World.
Mrs Justice Steyn
The High Court judge overseeing the case, Mrs Justice Steyn (pictured right) was appointed in 2019 and sits in the Queen’s Bench Division – the part of the High Court which deals with defamation, personal injury and breach of contract claims.
As well as overseeing the ‘Wagatha Christie’ claim, other prominent cases she has heard include Arron Banks’ libel claim against journalist Carole Cadwalladr and the FDA union’s unsuccessful legal challenge over Boris Johnson’s decision to support Priti Patel following bullying accusations.
The daughter of former Law Lord Lord Steyn, Mrs Justice Steyn covered a variety of cases as a barrister, including a case over the expansion of Heathrow airport.