The trial took place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 10 May 2022 to 19 May 2022.
Here, we recap the main events in the proceedings, the key issues for determination and provide an update on the current status of the claim.
Recap – the timeline
- September 2017 to October 2019. The Sun newspaper runs a number of articles about Mrs Rooney and her private life, including that she travelled to Mexico to look into “gender selection” treatment and about the flooding of the basement at her home. Mrs Rooney believes that these articles are based upon posts or stories from her private Instagram account which must have been leaked to The Sun and which had around 300 followers consisting of friends and family.
- 9 October 2019. Coleen Rooney posts on her social media channels about her plan to try catch the source of the leaks from her private Instagram account, including having blocked every account except one and uploading fabricated stories which then proceeded to appear in The Sun newspaper. Mrs Rooney finishes her post with a phrase that has since become much publicised: “It’s………..Rebekah Vardy’s account”.
- 12 June 2020. Mrs Vardy issues libel proceedings against Mrs Rooney.
- 2 October 2020. Mrs Rooney files at court her Defence to Mrs Vardy’s claim, contending that her 9 October 2019 post was (i) true; or (ii) a statement on a matter of public interest. For Mrs Rooney to succeed in her defence that the post was true, she must prove that the meaning of the post was at least substantially true.
- 19 November 2020. In the High Court Mr Justice Warby determines the meaning of Mrs Rooney’s 9 October 2019 post to be:
“Over a period of years Mrs Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Mrs Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Mrs Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Mrs Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Mrs Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public”.
This is therefore the meaning that Mrs Rooney's defence of truth must prove to be at least substantially true.
- 18 June 2021. Certain sections of Mrs Rooney’s Defence are struck out following an application by Mrs Vardy to limit the scope of the proceedings on grounds of (ir)relevance and proportionality.
- 4 August 2021. Master Eastman comments at a High Court hearing that the personal devices used by both Mrs Vardy and Mrs Rooney, and the devices used by the individuals who had access to Mrs Vardy’s Instagram account, ought to be forensically examined by IT experts. Around this same time, the device belonging to Caroline Watt, Mrs Vardy’s agent, falls into the North Sea during her holiday in Scotland.
- 8 – 9 February 2022. Mrs Rooney is refused permission to join Mrs Watt as a party to the proceedings for a claim for misuse of private information, in part because Mrs Watt advises the court that she will attend trial as a witness in any event. The Court is told of various issues in connection with Mrs Vardy’s disclosure exercise, including that all media files exchanged between Mrs Vardy and Mrs Watt had been accidentally lost and that certain messages between Mrs Vardy and Andy Halls, a journalist at The Sun, appeared to have been deleted. Mrs Rooney is successful in obtaining further disclosure from Mrs Vardy. Mrs Vardy is unsuccessful in obtaining further disclosure from Mrs Rooney.
- 13 April 2022. Mrs Rooney successfully obtains an order against News Group Newspapers for disclosure of messages exchanged between The Sun journalist Andy Halls, Mrs Vardy and Mrs Watt. The Court is told that Mrs Watt is not fit to give oral evidence at trial and that she has revoked her permission for her witness statement to be used and has withdrawn a waiver, given by her some weeks earlier, which would have allowed journalists from The Sun to say whether she was a source of the leaked stories.
- 29 April 2022. News Group Newspapers successfully resist providing disclosure by relying upon section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Individual journalists from The Sun successfully resist efforts to compel them to give evidence at trial on the same grounds. Counsel for Mrs Rooney contends that a new witness statement submitted by Mrs Vardy suggests that Mrs Watt was the source for the leaked articles with Mrs Vardy claiming that she did not authorise or condone her leaking those stories.
- 10 May 2022 to 19 May 2022. The trial takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and is described in the media as “the most compelling libel trial of the century”. Brabners LLP represent Mrs Rooney with David Sherborne and Ben Hamer of 5RB acting as Counsel. Mrs Vardy is represented by Kingsley Napley LLP with Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sara Mansoori QC acting as Counsel.
Issues for Determination
Below is a summary of the likely key issues for determination. The relevant test being the balance of probabilities (i.e., 50.1% versus 49.9%), or ‘what is more likely than not’.
- Is it true, or at least substantially true, that over a period of years Mrs Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Mrs Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Mrs Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Mrs Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Mrs Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public?
It may be that this is looked at in two ways:
- Was Mrs Vardy responsible for leaking information about Mrs Rooney to The Sun newspaper?
- Was Mrs Watt responsible for leaking information about Mrs Rooney to The Sun newspaper with Mrs Vardy’s authority or condonement?
- Was Mrs Rooney’s 9 October 2019 post a statement on a matter of public interest and did she believe it to be in the public interest?
- What remedy (i.e., damages), if any, is Mrs Vardy entitled to?
Mrs Justice Steyn has reserved judgment and it is expected to be handed down in the coming months.
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