‘Wagatha Christie’ Trial, in British Spectacle, Ends: There Was No Libel, Judge Finds

LONDON — It started as an Instagram-related quarrel between the spouses of two British soccer stars and grew right into a libel trial that supplied a welcome distraction for a nation in turmoil.

The High Court on Friday introduced an finish to the long-running authorized feud by ruling in opposition to the plaintiff, Rebekah Vardy, saying that she had not been defamed by her former buddy Coleen Rooney.

In the decision, Justice Karen Steyn dominated that the reputational injury suffered by Ms. Vardy didn’t meet what she described as “the sting of libel.” For that cause, she said in a written resolution revealed on Friday, “the case is dismissed.”

With its mixture of low stakes and excessive melodrama, the dispute between Ms. Vardy and Ms. Rooney didn’t quantity to the trial of the century. But the case attracted months of overheated tabloid protection at a time when Britain was navigating a cussed pandemic and a struggling economic system whereas its prime minister was on the ropes.

The authorized dispute was between Ms. Vardy, the spouse of the Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, and Ms. Rooney, who’s married to former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney. The ladies belong to a gaggle generally known as WAGs, a typical, if sexist, tabloid acronym for the “wives and girlfriends” {of professional} athletes, significantly Premier League footballers.

In 2019, Ms. Rooney suspected {that a} follower of her non-public Instagram account was promoting details about her, gleaned from her posts, to The Sun, a Rupert Murdoch-owned London tabloid identified for its pungent superstar protection. To suss out the supposed leaker, Ms. Rooney set a entice: She made her Instagram Stories seen solely to Ms. Vardy and used the account to plant false details about herself. Then she waited to see if it ended up in the press.

At the tip of her monthslong sting operation, Ms. Rooney claimed that Ms. Vardy was the wrongdoer. She leveled that accusation in a social media assertion in the autumn of 2019 that was broadly shared. Because of her sleuthing ways, Ms. Rooney grew to become generally known as “Wagatha Christie,” a mash-up of WAG and Agatha Christie, the Twentieth-century thriller author.

Mrs. Vardy issued a swift denial that she was the leaker. She then mentioned that she had employed forensic pc specialists to find out whether or not anybody else had entry to her Instagram account. In June 2020, after failed mediation, Ms. Vardy filed a defamation lawsuit in opposition to Ms. Rooney in High Court, which oversees high-profile civil instances in Britain.

This May, it went to court docket. The continuing, formally known as Vardy v. Rooney, grew to become generally known as the Wagatha Christie Trial. The time period was so frequent that it appeared in crawls on Sky News proper subsequent to “War in Ukraine.”

Tabloid photographers and cable information correspondents flocked to the steps exterior London’s Royal Courts of Justice for the nine-day occasion, which proved to be a trend spectacle as a lot as whodunit.

Mrs. Vardy, 40, arrived in an assortment of finery, together with a buttery yellow tweed swimsuit by Alessandra Rich and an Alexander McQueen blazer. On her left foot, Ms. Rooney, 36, wore a medical boot, an ungainly plastic gadget that she paired with a Chanel idler, a Gucci idler and a Gucci mule. She had sustained a fracture in a fall at her home.

Mrs. Vardy testified for 3 days. “I did not give any data to a newspaper,” she mentioned below questioning early in her testimony. “I’ve been known as a leak, and it is not good.”

The trial had loads of TV-worthy plot twists. It was revealed in court docket that laptops have been misplaced and that WhatsApp messages between Ms. Vardy and her agent, Caroline Watt — which apparently disparaged Ms. Rooney — had mysteriously disappeared. Mrs. Vardy’s lawyer added that Ms. Watt had “regrettably” dropped an iPhone containing WhatsApp messages into the North Sea. Mrs. Rooney’s lawyer, David Sherborne, replied that the mishap appeared to have resulted in the concealment of proof.

“The story is fishy certainly, no pun supposed,” I mentioned.

Mrs. Vardy informed the court docket she may “neither verify nor deny” what precisely had occurred to her lacking digital knowledge. At one other second, she started a response with the phrase “if I’m trustworthy,” inflicting Ms. Rooney’s barrister to snap: “I might hope you are trustworthy, since you’re sitting in a witness field.”

The case drew a lot media consideration as a result of WAGs — just like the gamers on the “Real Housewives” franchise in the United States — loom giant in the British cultural creativeness. They are photographed continually. They star in actuality reveals and have their very own fast-fashion strains and false-eyelash companies. A TV sequence impressed by their procuring habits, feuds and love lives, “Footballers Wives,” was a success in the early 2000s.

WAGs had a breakthrough second in 2006, when a gaggle of them enlivened the staid resort city of Baden-Baden throughout that yr’s World Cup, which passed off in stadiums throughout Germany. The ringleader was Victoria Beckham, who had risen to fame as Posh Spice in the Spice Girls earlier than marrying the nice midfielder David Beckham. Also on the journey: the 20-year-old Coleen McLoughlin, who was relationship Mr. Beckham’s teammate, Mr. Rooney, and would later marry him.

The tabloids ate it up. Reports from Baden-Baden informed of WAGs singing “We Are the Champions” from a lodge balcony, dancing on tabletops and chugging Champagne, vodka and Red Bull into the wee hours. In the daytime, the ladies went on epic procuring sprees and sunbathed because the paparazzi snapped away.

When England misplaced in the quarterfinals to Portugal, some sports activities pundits unfairly blamed the WAGs for the defeat. Predictably, the tabloids that had made them into celebrities tried to tear them down. “The Empty World of the WAGs” was the headline of a finger-wagging piece in The Daily Mail.

Years later, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy performed collectively for England, which added to the scrumptious awkwardness of the current court docket proceedings.

The trial match snugly right into a tradition that typically revels in photographs of how silly it may be — see additionally the favored TV present “Love Island.” It additionally touched on betrayal and lies, which have been defining themes in Britain as Prime Minister Boris Johnson incurred fines for breaking lockdown guidelines, then introduced that he would step down after his get together pushed him out over different deceptions.

The trial additionally introduced the complexities of the British class system. Online jokes from these following the case homed in on Oxford-educated attorneys studying aloud textual content messages stuffed with profane phrases from ladies who are sometimes dismissed as shallow or “chavvy,” to borrow a phrase Ms. Vardy used in reference to a cousin of Mr. Rooney’s.

Unlike this yr’s different high-profile superstar court docket battle, Depp v. Heard, these proceedings weren’t streamed stay, which added to the enchantment. Old-school courtroom sketches made the events appear like a potato, the moon and, in accordance with one commentator, “Norman Bates’s mom.”

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