Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy scored an own goal in a match against Burnley last September, eventually rescuing the score to draw 2-2 with a double in the back of the net.
But on Friday it was his wife Rebekah Vardy’s turn at an own goal. The 40-year-old socialite lost the libel trial she brought against her rival Wag Coleen Rooney, with the judge ruling that “significant parts of her evidence were not credible”.
Vardy had taken the case to the High Court in an attempt to clear her name, after claiming that a viral social media post from Rooney in 2019 caused her significant reputational harm.
But while her husband might have been able to level the playing field with two second-half goals in the match against Burnley, Vardy came to the court with no big shots, lacking crucial data and without her key witness, agent Caroline Watt, in tow .
“Bringing a libel claim is a high-risk strategy at the best of times. You shouldn’t consider it as your first option, and it really should be a last resort if there’s any sort of chink in your armour,” said Steven Heffer, head of media and privacy at London law firm Collyer Bristow.
“Presumably, Vardy thought it was a way of silencing Rooney, a bluff which did not pay off. But these cases have a life of their own and become unstoppable and hugely expensive.”
Though Rooney has walked away from the high-profile case victorious, she released a statement following the verdict saying that she “never believed it should have gone to court”, especially “at such expense in times of hardship for so many”.
Legal costs are thought to have spiraled to more than £1m for each team, and Vardy will now have to cover some if not all of Rooney’s costs as well as her own.
She will receive no payout and Rooney may even be entitled to damages of her own. Whatever Vardy set out to gain, she has monumentally failed to do so.
In a statement released this afternoon, Vardy said the judge “got it wrong” and that she was “devastated” by the ruling. It has left many scratching their heads over what prompted her to go nuclear with the ordeal.
For Mr Heffer, the power and permanence of social media posts may have been behind Vardy’s reasoning for taking the case to the High Court.
Vardy sued Rooney for libel over a post shared on Instagram and Twitter in October 2019, in which she claimed to have unearthed the source of several leaked stories about her that appeared in The Sun newspaper as coming from “Rebekah Vardy’s account”.
As Mrs Justice Steyn noted in her ruling, the Twitter post was viewed more than 30 million times in just a matter of hours.
“It was possibly a knee-jerk reaction to being attacked in such a public way,” said Mr Heffer. “In the past, when it was only newspapers printing those sorts of claims, it was often thought of as disposable and that people would forget about it within a few weeks or months.
“Nowadays, if something’s posted on the internet, it’s always there. It never goes. It makes it more important for people to protect their legal reputations,” he said. “Having said that, often the best policy is not to engage in legal action.”
Michael Skrein, senior partner at law firm Reed Smith, said Vardy’s defeat should be a warning to others considering libel action.
“Far from social media being a place where gossipers have immunity, it’s clear that it’s somewhere you have to be very careful what you say, and to respect other people’s privacy,” he said.
“When it comes to liability, the law does not generally treat social media any differently from any other form of publication. The recent swathe of libel cases relating to social media posts should act as a warning for social media users to tread carefully, or face the all-too-real consequences.”
And as other lawyers have noted, it could get even worse for Vardy. Mrs Justice Steyn described the absence of Ms Watt, the apparent go-between for Vardy and The Sun, as “striking”. She also ruled that on the balance of probability, Vardy and Ms Watt had colluded to destroy evidence relating to the case.
At other points, the judge rejected some of Vardy’s evidence as “manifestly untrue”.
According to Michael Gardner, partner at law firm Wedlake Bell, the judge’s ruling could see Vardy’s attempt to clear her name land her in legal hot water.
“Not only has she been left with a huge legal bill, but the disturbing findings by Mrs Justice Steyn that Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt deliberately deleted messages and destroyed phones and laptops to conceal their activities, could in theory expose her to further action, ” he said.
“It’s possible that the evidence destruction or ‘manifestly untrue’ evidence given by Vardy in the witness box could be grounds to start committal proceedings for contempt of court,” he said. “Or a criminal prosecution for perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice.”
Particularly striking for Mr Gardner was the fact that the judge did not even have to explore the public interest defense made by Rooney. Mrs Justice Steyn said Vardy “clearly” knew of, condoned, and actively engaged in leaking personal information about Rooney to the press.
It rendered Rooney’s claims as “substantially true”, removing the need for Rooney to prove that she was justified in airing the claims in such a public way.
“The judge didn’t go into much detail in relation to the second ground of Rooney’s defense – the public interest defence. She said it was unnecessary to do so given her findings on truth,” said Mr Gardner.
Vardy has already said she will not appeal the ruling, and that the case is “over”, as far as she is concerned.
But Mr Gardner claimed that the clarity of Mrs Justice Steyn’s conclusion marked a “personal catastrophe” for Vardy, which would be difficult to recover from.
“Bringing the case backfired – she brought the claim ostensibly to protect her own reputation but has instead seen it left in tatters,” he said. “Why she chose to bring and continue the case all the way to trial will forever remain a mystery.”