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Round one of the libel claim dubbed “Wagatha Christie” has gone to the claimant, Rebekah Vardy. The case was brought by Ms Vardy (wife of England footballer Jamie Vardy) after Colleen Rooney (wife of fellow England footballer Wayne Rooney) wrote a post on Instagram and Twitter about trying to find out who had been providing stories about her private life to The Sun newspaper. Ms Rooney told the story of how she had published fake stories about herself visible only to certain people on Instagram, reasoning that if those appeared in a newspaper she would have identified who was leaking them. In the denouement, she said ‘It’s ……………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.’ Ms Vardy denied providing stories to The Sun, and sued Ms Rooney for libel.

As a preliminary issue, the court was asked to decide the meaning of the words. This is common in libel cases, as although different people may take slightly different meanings from an article or social media post, under libel law the judge has to decide the one ‘true meaning’ of the words. For example, there might be argument as to whether an article accuses someone of being a thief, or rather makes the less serious allegation that there are reasonable grounds to suspect them of being a thief.

In this case, the argument was over whether what was meant was that it was Ms Vardy herself who had leaked the stories to The Sun, or whether the words ‘Rebekah Vardy’s account’ meant that it could have been anyone who had access to her Instagram account, not necessarily Ms Vardy herself, and therefore it only meant that there were reasonable grounds to suspect Ms Vardy. Lawyers for Ms Rooney argued that it was well-known that celebrities had people who managed their social media accounts for them.

The judge found that the post meant that Ms Vardy herself had leaked the stories.

This now sets the parameters for the rest of the case, meaning that if Ms Rooney wants to defend the case by saying that the post was true, she will have to prove that Ms Vardy herself provided the stories to The Sun. It would not be sufficient to show that someone else, for example someone employed by Ms Vardy did so, nor would it be enough for her just to show that she had evidence which led her to reasonably suspect Ms Vardy.

Vardy and Rooney have now agreed to a stay of proceedings to try to settle things out of court, but if they do not, the case may move towards a full trial.  zoom-in will be following the case avidly and will report on developments.