WAGs at war: Footballers' wives Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney kick off legal battle

LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) – A courtroom battle between the wives of former England football stars Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy kicked off in London on Thursday (Nov 19), an escalation in a tale of betrayal and amateur detective work that has titillated the British public.

Rebekah Vardy is suing her former friend Coleen Rooney, 34, for libel after the latter accused her on Twitter and Instagram of leaking stories from her private life to the Sun tabloid newspaper. Vardy denies the leaks.

Both women belong to a glamorous group of footballers’ wives and girlfriends, known in Britain as the WAGs, who have become celebrities in their own right, their lives regularly dissected by the tabloid press.

Their feud exploded into public view in October last year, when Rooney, whose husband is Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer, posted a message explaining that she had become suspicious of one of her friends and had carefully planned and executed a sting operation.

She said she had blocked all her friends from viewing her private Instagram account except for the one she suspected, and had then posted fake stories over five months, which had found their way into the Sun.

The end of the message said: “I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them. It’s…Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

But Vardy, who has also appeared in several reality television shows, denied the accusation. “I don’t need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you?” the 38-year-old model replied.

But her denial did not stop a wave of social media abuse and ridicule that her lawyers say is continuing. Her husband Jamie was on several occasions mocked while playing for his club, Leicester City, by opposition fans chanting “your wife is a grass” – British slang for an informer.

On Thursday, Rooney’s lawyer David Sherborne argued that Vardy “was responsible for consistently passing on information about the defendant’s private Instagram posts and stories to The Sun” with which she “had a very close relationship”.

He said that Rooney in a “sting operation” limited access to her private account to just the @beckyvardy account but argued her post “stops short of (assigning) guilt”.

The post said only that “it was Rebekah Vardy’s account that was the source of private stories about the defendant appearing in The Sun – not Rebekah Vardy herself”, he added.

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Vardy says third parties had access to her Instagram account, which has around 400,000 followers.

Lawyer Hugh Tomlinson, acting for Vardy, said his client was depicted as a “villain” in an “untrue and unjustified defamatory attack… published and republished to millions of people”.

Coleen Rooney has 1.2 million followers on Twitter and 885,000 on Instagram. The story was widely covered by Britain’s national print and broadcast media. It has been dubbed the “WAGatha Christie” case, in reference to the renowned author of detective novels.

In a written statement to the High Court, Vardy said she was pregnant at the time and feared she could lose her unborn baby due to the stress of Rooney’s allegations.

Thursday’s hearing was to determine a preliminary issue: The meaning of Rooney’s post in the eyes of a reasonable reader.

Vardy’s lawyers said it would have been taken to mean that Vardy herself had consistently betrayed Rooney’s trust over several years. Rooney’s lawyers drew attention to the words “Rebekah Vardy’s account”, arguing that this stopped short of asserting Vardy’s unequivocal guilt.

The core of Rooney’s defence, that her post was justified because its content was true, will be examined during a full trial at a later date.

Neither Vardy nor Rooney attended a preliminary hearing, where judge Mark Warby was asked to rule on the “natural and ordinary” meaning of Rooney’s post.

The judge said he would issue a ruling on Friday.

Vardy’s lawyer asked for an adjournment until February to allow for mediation. Should that fail, the case would go trial next year, The Times newspaper reported.

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