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What “Wagatha Christie” Saga Says About U.K. defamation litigation – The Hollywood Reporter

Did Harry Styles really spit on Chris Pine? Why did Selena unfollow the Jenner sisters? Did Katy Perry Really Steal Taylor Swift’s Backup Dancer? Who knows.

Damn the media tabloids and TikTok, most celebrity beef dishes end up without a satisfying logo. After all, the court of public opinion lacks the power to subpoena. And what celebrity is small enough to spend millions – and years of their lives – broadcasting their own dirty laundry?

WAGs, it’s people.

Short for Wives And Girlfriends, WAGs are the better half of the hugely popular British Football Association (aka “soccer”) players. And as the two battle, an irresistible force of impeccable style meets a captivating immovable object. While their husbands settled their differences on the field, the WAGs took it to court.

It all started in the fall of 2019 when Coleen Rooney, wife of Manchester United (now retired) football legend Wayne Rooney, noticed her personal Instagram posts were becoming fodder for the newspapers. tabloid; especially, Sun. Acting on a hunch, Rooney blocked all but one of her followers: Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy. She posted a series of fake flags as bait, and when they led to headlines like ‘Coleen Rooney arrives in Mexico to look into £8k ‘sex selection’ treatment in an effort desperate to have a daughter,” the fan gushed. Rooney put on Twitter to j’accuse Vardy like a traitor and ran away.

The first-rate detective work earned Rooney the nickname “Wagatha Christie”.

At that point, Vardy did the right thing and sorry sued. Rooney refused to back down. A high stakes cockfight ensued at the courts.

Vardy was soon arrested in the case when the esteemed Mrs. Justice Steyn ruled that Rooney not only had to prove the leaks originated with Vardy, but that Vardy knew and intended to pass the information on. Sun. This is despite Rooney’s tweet stating only that the information came from Vardy’s account.

After three years of liability and a weeks-long trial, Rooney finally gained the upper hand earlier this summer. Based on the accursed text messages and Vardy’s accomplice, former agent Caroline Watt, attempting to testify, Justice Steyn concluded that Watt had given advice to Sun by order of Vardy. Now, Vardy has to bear not only the attorney fees but also Rooney.

What could have possessed Vardy to pursue a bullshit claim? I talked to an American Wolf Man lawyer in London to find out. Adelaide Scardino Lopez is a Senior Associate at Wiggin, a leading media law firm.

Has life in the defamation courts in the UK always been this exciting?

Lopez: This is a case that has been going on for a decade. Usually the complaints will involve some kind of tree surgeon who is suing a trade publication over an article about how he cut down trees.

What will Vardy do to file a lawsuit when she learns her agent is the source of the leaks?

I don’t think it was immediately proven what a loser was until the trial because, up until that point, only Vardy knew the truth. Even Rooney only gave circumstantial evidence. Looks like Vardy really convinced herself that she wasn’t the source since she didn’t reveal it directly. Sun or she is simply using the legal system to bully Rooney into backing down. Or she doesn’t understand that her agent “losing” her phone in the North Sea won’t delete their accusing WhatsApp messages from the cloud.

It’s not that Rooney accuses Vardy of anything particularly heinous.

Exactly. For lawsuits like this, any damages will count entirely as legal fees, so it’s almost entirely an intellectual exercise for everyone. Only lawyers come out front. It’s the most expensive twitter spat in the world. The public loves it – and the women are developing competing TV projects based on the whole thing.

Is Rooney unusual in her steadfastness?

Because she has enough financial strength to see through this and is willing to spend millions of dollars, not wanting to lose face.

Is risk calculation different for UK publishers?

That is. “Wagatha Christie” is one of them. Rooney does not face costly lawsuits on a regular basis. On the other hand, publishers often apologize and settle – even when fully justified – because it is so expensive to fight. There are no thumbs on the scale in favor of free speech in the UK. If anything, i.e. the burden of proof rests with the publisher, the opposite can be said.

Over the past year, however, we’ve seen three well-known defamation claimants in the UK: Johnny Depp has lost his case against Sun (only then winning Amber Heard in the US), billionaire pro-Brexit Arron Banks lost his case against author Carole Cadwalladr, and now Vardy is only against Rooney. Is there any reason to believe that the UK’s libel laws are not as terrible as imagined?

We have observed a 50% drop in defamation cases filed over the past year. So that may reflect some strategic adjustments, but unfortunately for our media clients, the UK remains the most claimant-friendly jurisdiction in the world. The claimants continue to gamble that if you threaten or bring a proceeding, it will settle. Even in this case, despite Vardy making a really futile statement, Justice Steyn actually stooped over the back to present to her in a rather sympathetic way.

How would you sum the whole thing up?
According to one of my colleagues, Vardy must have had his own goal with this goal.

Daniel Novack is an attorney in the publishing industry, chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Communications Law Committee, and co-host of the Slandertown First Amendment podcast. This article reflects his personal views only.

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