HomeInsightsHigh Court finds Coleen Rooney’s Tweet concerning Rebekah Vardy substantially true

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In October 2019, Coleen Rooney published a statement on Twitter, Facebook and her public Instagram account (the Post) as follows:

“For a few years now someone who I trusted to follow me on my personal Instagram account has been consistently informing The SUN newspaper of my private posts and stories.

There has been so much information given to them about me, my friends and my family – all without my permission or knowledge.

After a long time of trying to figure out who it could be, for various reasons, I had a suspicion.

To try and prove this, I came up with an idea. I blocked everyone from viewing my Instagram stories except ONE account. (Those on my private account must have been wondering why I haven’t had stories on there for a while.)

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! The story about gender selection in Mexico, the story about returning to TV and then the latest story about the basement flooding in my new house.

It’s been tough keeping it to myself and not making any comment at all, especially when the stories have been leaked, however I had to. Now I know for certain which account/individual it’s come from.

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 meaning of the Post, which had been determined as a preliminary issue, was:

“Over a period of years Ms Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Ms Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Ms Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Ms Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public”.

Ms Vardy issued proceedings for defamation against Ms Rooney.

Ms Rooney conceded that the Post was defamatory at common law and that the condition in s 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, that the “publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant” was met. She relied on two defences: (i) truth (pursuant to s 2 of the 2013 Act); and (ii) public interest (pursuant to s 4 of the 2013 Act).

The primary issue at trial was whether Ms Rooney had proved that the single meaning was substantially true.

Ms Rooney argued that certain articles published in The Sun newspaper had resulted from leaks by Ms Vardy, using her agent, Ms Caroline Watt, as a conduit of information that Ms Rooney had posted on her private Instagram account.

Ms Vardy denied that she had leaked any information from Ms Rooney’s private Instagram account. She accepted that it was possible that Ms Watt, accessing the account via Ms Vardy’s Instagram account, may have had some involvement in the articles that appeared to be derived from stories or posts on the account. However, if that was so, Ms Vardy denied that she had authorised, approved, condoned or knew anything about the provision of information to the press.

Mrs Justice Steyn DBE, found that she had to treat Ms Vardy’s evidence with “very considerable caution”, determining that “significant parts of Ms Vardy’s evidence were not credible”. There were many occasions when her evidence was “manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence”, evasive or implausible.

There were gaps in some of the evidence presented by Ms Vardy. Steyn J accepted that Ms Vardy’s decision not to call Ms Watt, a key witness, was motivated to a substantial degree by concern for Ms Watt’s welfare. Nonetheless, she said that the primary reason Ms Watt was so reluctant to give evidence and had suffered adversely from the pressure to do so, was that she knew that to a large extent the evidence she was due to give (but then withdrew) was untrue. Steyn J inferred that the decision not to call Ms Watt was in part motivated by an assessment that her evidence, when tested in cross-examination, would have been likely to have undermined Ms Vardy’s case.

WhatsApp exchanges between Ms Vardy and Ms Watt between 2017 and 2019, when Ms Vardy followed Ms Rooney’s private Instagram account, were missing. Steyn J said that these were of particular relevance in determining the claim and that the loss of this information was deliberate rather than accidental. She inferred that the missing data would have supported Ms Rooney’s truth defence.

Steyn J held that together with Ms Watt, Ms Vardy was party to the disclosure to The Sun of information from several of Ms Rooney’s social media posts. Steyn J considered it likely that Ms Watt undertook the direct act, in relation to each post, of passing the information to a journalist at The Sun, but found that Ms Vardy knew of, condoned and was actively engaged in this process.

Steyn J inferred that additional information from Ms Rooney’s private Instagram account was likely to have been passed to The Sun by Ms Vardy and Ms Watt, acting together.

Accordingly, Steyn J held that Ms Rooney had succeeded in proving that the single meaning of the Post was substantially true. However, Steyn J rejected Ms Rooney’s public interest defence, finding that her belief that publication was in the public interest was not reasonable in the circumstances, in particular as Ms Rooney had not given Ms Vardy the opportunity to respond to the allegation.

In terms of Ms Vardy’s case, Steyn J found that Ms Vardy had been genuinely offended by the accusation made against her by Ms Rooney in the Post. That was not because she was not involved in disclosing information from Ms Rooney’s private Instagram account, but because of a combination of factors. Steyn J said that Ms Vardy’s part in disclosing the information was unthinking rather than part of a considered and concerted business practice”. Consequently, there had been a degree of self-deception on the part of Ms Vardy regarding the extent to which she was involved, as well as a degree of justified resentment at the exaggerated way in which her role had at times been presented during the litigation. (Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney [2022] EWHC 2017 (QB) (29 July 2022) — to read the judgment in full, click here).