One of the most ridiculous and engrossing trials in modern legal memory finally came to a conclusion on Friday. After one soccer player’s wife accused another of leaking stories about her to the tabloid press in 2019, we couldn’t have foreseen the rollercoaster of secret messages, suspiciously lost evidence, and downright hilarity which was to follow. Such was the drama that—before the case even had a verdict—Channel 4 announced it would turn the saga into a TV docudrama.
On Friday, a judge ruled against Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City player Jamie, in her libel case against Coleen Rooney. Vardy had tried to claim she’d been defamed by Rooney—whose husband Wayne coaches MLS team D.C. United—when Rooney accused Vardy of selling stories to The Sun newspaper.
Rooney first made the allegation against Vardy in spectacular fashion three years ago—earning comparisons to Agatha Christie—when she publicly revealed the details of an ingenious sting operation designed to catch the person who was selling stories about her. On Oct. 9, 2019, Rooney gathered an entire nation into the proverbial drawing room to unmask the culprit. “I blocked everyone from viewing my Instagram stories except ONE account,” Rooney wrote in a post on her social media channels. “Over the past five months I have posted a series of false stories to see if they made their way into the Sun newspaper. And you know what, they did! … I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. It’s… Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
The brilliance of Rooney’s sleuthing led to Brits embracing the row under the moniker “Wagatha Christie”— a portmanteau of WAG (“Wives and Girlfriends,” a term used to describe soccer players’ partners who are endlessly discussed in the British tabloid press) and the famous mystery novelist. Vardy was quick to deny that she was in fact the culprit, and chose to defend her good name in a court of law by suing Rooney for libel.
Her defense was basically that many people had access to her Instagram account and that it must have been one of them who had sold the stories. “I’m not being funny but I don’t need the money,” Vardy wrote in a public post responding to Rooney’s bombshell allegation. “What would I gain from selling stories on you?”
Despite attempts at mediation, the pair refused to settle out of court, instead choosing to escalate it to England’s High Court of Justice at eye-watering personal expense—some estimates reckon over $3.5 million has been spent on lawyers. It might be the most high profile venue for schoolyard tittle-tattle in she-said-she-said history. On day one of the trial, inside the vast court built in the High Victorian Gothic Style and opened by Queen Victoria herself, excerpts were read out from a 2004 kiss-and-tell interview in which Vardy had described a pop star as having been “hung like a small chipolata,” a modest kind of sausage, after a tryst. There have been entire Barnum & Bailey shows that were less of a circus.
The case became a source of national obsession—but Vardy insisted it was no laughing matter. In court last year, her lawyer said his client had “suffered widespread abuse and hostility” because of Rooney’s accusation and that Vardy’s children “were also abused at school.”
But as the case played out, the whole affair kept lurching back to the laughable. In February this year, it emerged that Vardy’s former publicist, Caroline Watt, had dropped her phone into the sea during a boat trip off the Scottish coast, thereby losing potentially critical evidence after Rooney’s lawyers requested to examine the device. At trial, Vardy’s lawyer bemoaned the fact the phone was now “lying at the bottom of the sea in Davy Jones’s locker.” “Who is Davy Jones?” Vardy asked the court, prompting the judge to explain the joke. And when Vardy began one of her answers with the phrase “If I’m honest,” Rooney’s lawyer interjected: “I would hope you’re honest because you’re sitting in a witness box.”
Messages between Vardy and Watt that were read out in court were explosive in and of themselves. “That cunt needs to get over herself,” Vardy wrote to Watt in one text. “I really can’t see anyone being that arsed with selling stories on her.” Vardy’s lawyer also said that a message referring to someone as a “nasty bitch” was not about Rooney. Another message sent shortly after Rooney posted on Instagram about a car crash read: “Would love to leak those stories.”
At trial, Vardy accepted that she had tried to leak a story about Premier League soccer player Danny Drinkwater to The Sun. “I want paying for this,” she’d written in an accompanying note. Elsewhere, when details of Rooney having crashed her car emerged in The Sun, she posted a public tweet saying it was “sad” that someone following her was “betraying” her. Watt forwarded the post to Vardy, writing: “It wasn’t someone she trusted. It was me.”
Even their husbands couldn’t escape the drama. Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy gave contradictory accounts of a conversation during the 2016 Euro soccer tournament, where they both played together as England teammates. Wayne said the England coach Roy Hodgson asked him to have an “awkward” chat with Jamie asking his wife to “calm down” amid rumors she was writing undercover articles about the players and their wives. Jamie put out a statement saying the conversation never happened, saying Wayne was “talking nonsense.”
With Friday’s ruling, the issue was finally put to bed, with Vardy losing spectacularly. Not only did judge Mrs Justice Steyn rule that Rooney’s 2019 post was “substantially true,” she also went to the trouble of savaging Vardy’s credibility throughout the trial (which, let’s not forget, Vardy insisted upon herself).
Justice Steyn said the court had to treat Vardy’s evidence with “very considerable caution,” on account of “significant parts” turning out to be “not credible.” It gets worse: “There were many occasions when [Vardy’s] evidence was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, evasive or implausible.” The judgment even found that it was “likely” that Vardy deleted messages to her publicist, Caroline Watt, “and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea.”
This is the conclusion for Vardy after three years of embarrassing revelations and millions spent on legal fees to defend her good name. Who would’ve thought that it would be a player’s wife, not a player, who would score the most spectacular own goal in history.