Rebekah Vardy has suggested her agent may have leaked stories about Coleen Rooney to the Sun, the high court has heard, in a last-minute change of approach ahead of the “Wagatha Christie” libel trial.
The two women are locked in an expensive and increasingly messy libel battle over accusations Vardy passed information from Rooney’s private Instagram account to the tabloid.
Until now Vardy has said she was not responsible for leaking the material and did not know who did. With a week to go until the trial Rooney’s lawyers told the high court that Vardy had realised Caroline Watt, her agent and close friend, may have handed over information on Rooney to Sun journalists.
Rooney’s lawyers told the high court Vardy had changed her account of events in an updated witness statement. They said Vardy believed it was Watt who may have “betrayed” her and leaked information without her knowledge.
The high court heard Vardy “did not authorise or condone” her agent to leak the stories, essentially shifting the blame on to her business partner and close friend. The court previously heard how the pair discussed accessing Rooney’s Instagram account and talked about selling different stories on the Chelsea footballer Danny Drinkwater to journalists at the Sun.
Rooney’s legal team have struggled to obtain some potentially crucial messages from Vardy and Watt, after a series of incidents that have affected the duo’s electronic devices, the court has been told. Watt accidentally dropped her mobile phone in the North Sea shortly after Rooney’s lawyers requested to search it for messages, the court has heard. Vardy employed an IT expert to back up her WhatsApp messages but the expert lost the password, and a laptop used by Vardy during the period in question has stopped working.
Rooney’s lawyers also say electronic records suggest there was manual deletion of some WhatsApp messages sent between Vardy and Watt. Vardy’s lawyers told the court she had “not destroyed or deliberately lost any documents relevant to this litigation”, which would be a potentially serious legal issue.
In a last-ditch attempt for information, Rooney’s lawyers are trying to obtain copies of any conversations that may have taken place between the two women and the Sun journalist Andy Halls. They want the court to require the reporter to hand over his WhatsApp in order to avoid a “seriously unfair trial which is contrary to the interests of justice”, arguing that Halls may have the only existing proof that Vardy or Watt leaked stories to him.
In response, the Sun’s lawyers are refusing to disclose information on the basis their journalists will not betray their sources. Rooney’s team are trying to convince a high court judge that gossip stories about Wayne Rooney’s basement flooding are not worthy of the same journalistic protections afforded to more serious investigations.
The case is scheduled to go to trial at the high court on 9 May. Rooney, the wife of Derby County manager Wayne, ran an elaborate sting operation that led her to claim, in late 2019, that Vardy, the wife of Leicester City striker Jamie, was the person leaking stories to the Sun.
Vardy says this is a lie and has sued Rooney for libel. An early ruling in a pre-trial hearing means that Rooney is required to prove that it was Vardy who personally leaked fake stories from a private Instagram to the journalists at the Sun, rather than simply someone with access to Vardy’s Instagram account.
Despite the legal process lasting almost three years, the court heard that Vardy has only just realised that her agent could have been leaking stories. Watt was due to give evidence at the trial but now says she is too ill to do so.
Rooney’s lawyers reject this account of the events. They told the court Vardy had been “complicit in the sharing of private information with Ms Watt; complicit in it being passed on to the Sun and the press; and complicit in covering up her and Ms Watt’s involvement”.