In a 75-page judgment (I’ve read it so that you don’t have to), it has been detailed how Vardy spectacularly lost her defamation action in which she resisted accusations of leaking stories from Instagram to the tabloid press. By the process of elimination, 'the people’s champion', Mrs. Rooney, or “Wagatha Christie” herself, has won (although I’ve yet to see one media report putting it in that way – Vardy really has been cast as the villain in this sorry tale).
I am surprised at the decision and was not expecting it (for reasons explained in my earlier article).
Mrs. Justice Steyn found/wrote that “it is, unfortunately, necessary to treat Ms. Vardy’s evidence with very considerable caution”. She said that “there were many occasions when her evidence was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence… and others where she was evasive”. The worst indictment being that “Ms. Vardy was generally unwilling to make factual concessions, however implausible her evidence. This inevitably affects my overall view of her credibility”.
Criticism was also levied at litigation strategy – “it is probable that Ms. Vardy was seeking to press Ms. Rooney into settling a case that would have appeared to be fatally weakened, and so avoid a trial.”
Given the stakes – public condemnation, minimal damages (estimated to be £20k to £40k) and a very large legal bill, where the best hopes of costs recovery would be 60% to two thirds, it was inevitable that a settlement and agreed statement would be preferable (à la Prince Andrew and Ms. Giuffre, although that too had its significant downsides (read more here)). What is not surprising is that Mrs. Rooney resisted it. She has now been vindicated in that decision.
The North Sea refused to give evidence
The death knell appeared to be that Ms. Vardy did not call her close friend and agent, Ms. Watt, as a witness. Given the allegation that information from the private Instagram account was disclosed directly to journalists at The Sun by Ms. Watt, “with Ms Vardy’s knowledge and approval”, Ms. Watt was a “vital” witness to the matters in issue, whose “absence [was] striking”.
She did not escape the Court’s disapproval. It inferred that “she knew that to a large extent the evidence in her statements was untrue.” The Court also found that “Ms. Vardy chose not to call Ms. Watt because she knew”. She had evidently not endeared herself to the Court.
The Court ultimately said that as Ms. Watts did not give evidence “live” and in person that it could not test whether her explanation of dropping her phone in the North Sea was true. The Court decided on balance that it was not – “the timing is striking” and “the likelihood that the loss Ms. Watt describes was accidental is slim.” “In my judgment, it is likely that Ms. Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms. Watt, and that Ms. Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea.”
Vardy's desire to witness summons the journalists ('subpoena' to our overseas friends), had been nixed by the Court at an earlier hearing, so they were under no obligation to attend to inform the Court whether Vardy was the leak or in what circumstances they received the information.
By contrast (night and day!) the Court found Rooney to be an “honest and reliable witness” that she “sought to answer the questions she was asked without any evasion, and without conveying any sense that she was giving pre-prepared answers”. Gold star.
“The essential sting of the libel has been shown to be true.”
The penultimate paragraphs touch very briefly upon the second limb of Mrs. Rooney’s Defence of public interest. It was said that “the Reveal Post was on a matter of public interest, namely the undesirable practice of information (in the nature of mere gossip) about celebrities’ private lives being disclosed to the press by trusted individuals”
“it was not reasonable to believe that it was in the public interest to publish the Reveal Post without taking any steps to put the allegation to Ms. Vardy and give her an opportunity to respond. It is no answer to that point that Ms. Rooney anticipated that Ms. Vardy would deny the allegation.” That too is a cautionary tale.
The world will be watching for what comes next from the world’s greatest detective, not Sherlock, not Batman - but Coleen.