What the “Wagatha Christie” Saga Says about UK Libel Litigation

An Instagram setup, a Twitter accusation and a court docket battle for the ages.

Did Harry Types actually spit on Chris Pine? Why did Selena unfollow the Jenner sisters? Did Katy Perry really steal Taylor Swift’s backup dancers? Who is aware of.

Tabloid media and TikTok sleuths be damned, most movie star beefs finish and not using a satisfying denouement. In any case, the court docket of public opinion lacks subpoena energy. And what movie star is petty sufficient to spend hundreds of thousands of {dollars} — and years of their lives — airing their very own soiled laundry?

WAGs, that’s who.

Brief for Wives And Girlfriends, WAGs are the higher halves of the ultra-famous British Affiliation Soccer (aka “soccer”) gamers. And when two go to conflict, an impeccably styled irresistible pressure meets a glamorously immovable object. Whereas their husbands settle their variations on the sector, WAGs take it to the courts.

It began in fall 2019 when Coleen Rooney, spouse of legendary (now-retired) Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, observed her personal Instagram posts had been changing into fodder for the tabloids; particularly, The Solar. Appearing on a hunch, Rooney blocked all however considered one of her followers: Rebekah Vardy, spouse of Leicester Metropolis striker Jamie Vardy. She posted a collection of false flags as bait, and once they resulted in headlines like “Coleen Rooney travelled to Mexico to look into £8k ‘gender choice’ remedy in determined bid to have child woman,” the fink was flushed out. Rooney took to Twitter to j’accuse Vardy as a traitor and leaker.

The primary-class detective work landed Rooney the nickname “Wagatha Christie.”

At which level Vardy did the cheap factor and apologized sued. Rooney refused to again down. A high-stakes recreation of rooster ensued within the courts.

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Vardy caught an early break within the case when the Honorable Mrs. Justice Steyn dominated that Rooney should not solely show the leaks originated from Vardy, however that Vardy knew and meant for the data to be handed on to The Solar. This regardless of Rooney’s tweet merely stating that the data got here from Vardy’s account.

After three years of authorized posturing and a multi-week trial, Rooney finally prevailed earlier this summer season. Primarily based on damning textual content messages and Vardy’s co-conspirator, former agent Caroline Watt, flaking on testifying, Justice Steyn concluded that Watt gave the tricks to The Solar at Vardy’s behest. Now, Vardy is on the hook not just for her attorneys’ charges however Rooney’s as nicely.

What may have presumably possessed Vardy to pursue a bullshit declare? I spoke to an American werewolf solicitor in London to search out out. Adelaide Scardino Lopez is a Senior Affiliate at Wiggin, a number one media legislation agency.

Is life within the UK libel courts all the time this thrilling?

Lopez: This was a once-in-a-decade case. Usually complaints will contain some form of tree surgeon who’s suing a commerce publication over an article about how he cuts down timber.

What would possess Vardy to file a lawsuit when she is aware of her agent was the supply of the leaks?

I don’t assume it was instantly evident what a loser it was till the trial as a result of, till that time, solely Vardy knew the reality. Even Rooney was simply going off circumstantial proof. It looks as if Vardy both genuinely satisfied herself that she wasn’t a supply as a result of she didn’t immediately leak to The Solar or she was merely utilizing the authorized system to bully Rooney into backing down. Or she didn’t perceive that her agent “shedding” her telephone within the North Sea wouldn’t take away their incriminating WhatsApp messages from the cloud.

It’s not as if Rooney accused Vardy of something significantly heinous.

Precisely. For lawsuits like this, any damages can be outstripped fully be the authorized charges so it’s virtually purely an mental train for everybody. Solely the attorneys come out forward. It was the world’s most costly twitter spat. The general public beloved it — and the ladies are every growing competing tv tasks primarily based on the entire thing.

Was Rooney uncommon in her steadfastness?

She was, as a result of she had the monetary sources to see this by and a willingness to spend hundreds of thousands relatively than lose face.

Is the chance calculus completely different for UK publishers?

It’s. “Wagatha Christie” was a one off. Rooney isn’t dealing with costly lawsuits regularly. Publishers, alternatively, typically apologize and settle — even when totally justified — as a result of it’s cost-prohibitive to battle. There’s no thumb on the dimensions in favor of freedom of speech within the UK. If something, on condition that the burden of proof is on the writer, the alternative might be stated.

But, previously 12 months we’ve seen three high-profile defamation claimants fall flat within the UK: Johnny Depp failed in his lawsuit towards The Solar (solely to later win a trial towards Amber Heard within the US), multimillionaire Brexit backer Arron Banks misplaced his lawsuit towards writer Carole Cadwalladr, and now Vardy simply flopped towards Rooney. Is there motive to imagine UK libel legislation isn’t as terrible as imagined?

We’ve noticed a 50 % decline in defamation circumstances filed previously 12 months. So that might replicate some adjustment in technique, however sadly for our media purchasers, the UK remains to be arms down essentially the most claimant-friendly jurisdiction on the planet. Claimants proceed to gamble that for those who threaten or convey a continuing it should settle. Even on this case, regardless of Vardy bringing a really meritless declare, Justice Steyn actually bent over backwards to current her in a reasonably sympathetic gentle.

How would you sum the entire thing up?
Within the phrases of considered one of my colleagues, Vardy actually scored an personal objective with this one.

Daniel Novack is a publishing trade legal professional, chair of the New York State Bar Affiliation Committee on Media Legislation, and co-host of First Modification podcast Slandertown. This text displays his private views solely.

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