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‘Wagatha Christie’ Trial Verdict: Loss in libel case for Rebekah Vardy

Rebekah Vardy’s high-profile libel claim against Coleen Rooney has been dismissed in the High Court following a seven-day trial.

Background

Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney are well-known media and television personalities, and are both married to former England footballers, namely Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney.

A number of stories about Mrs Rooney had been published by The Sun newspaper, which Mrs Rooney had originally shared on a private social media account. After becoming suspicious that Mrs Vardy may have been involved, Mrs Rooney conducted a ‘sting’ operation in which she shared false stories on her social media which were only viewable by Mrs Vardy. Following publication of the stories by The Sun newspaper, Mrs Rooney published a post on her various public social media platforms which accused Mrs Vardy of being the party responsible.

The post very quickly went viral, and Mrs Vardy subsequently brought a claim against Mrs Rooney for libel, claiming to have suffered ‘very serious harm to her reputation’. Mrs Rooney defended the claim on two grounds: first, that the accusation was true based on circumstantial evidence; and second, that it was in the public interest for Mrs Rooney to make the accusation against Mrs Vardy.

Mrs Rooney was successful on the matter of truth, after convincing the judge that the claim against Mrs Vardy was likely to be true, but failed on her public interest defence.

The Law

Libel concerns the publication of defamatory material, that is, something that adversely affects a person’s reputation. Libel tends to go hand-in-hand with slander, and both are types of defamation.

The distinction between the two is that libel concerns “lasting” forms of publication such as print, online or broadcasting. Slander concerns more transient forms such as spoken words or gestures. A slander will generally be actionable only if the claimant can show that it has caused tangible damage. By contrast, libel is actionable where harm is proven or is likely to have been caused.

A claimant must establish that the words complained of are defamatory of them. They must also prove that the publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation.

The remedies available for defamation are damages, an injunction, publication of a summary of the court’s judgment and an order to remove the defamatory statement. The court does not have a general power to require the defendant to correct the defamatory statement or declare the statement to have been false. It also does not have the power to make such a declaration itself, save in rare cases.

There are a number of defences available to those who find themselves subject to a claim in defamation, and Mrs Rooney sought to rely on two of these namely truth and publication on a matter of public interest.

It is an absolute defence to a defamation claim if it can be shown that a defamatory statement is true. The rationale for the defence is that a claimant should not be entitled to recover damages for injury to a reputation they did not deserve to have in the first place.

It is a defence to an action for defamation where the defendant can show not only that the statement complained of was, or formed part of, a statement on a matter of public interest, but that the defendant reasonably believed that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest.

Commentary

Defamation claims are notoriously difficult and expensive to pursue. The bar for satisfying the necessary requirements is high, and there is a need for very strong evidence. On top of that are the numerous potential defences available, only two of which were seen in Vardy v Rooney, which provide broader opportunities for potential defendants to successfully defend a claim. There is also the consideration of potential costs consequences. As a general rule, the loser pays the winner’s costs, which are likely to be substantial in a claim for defamation.

If you have any queries, please contact our Dispute Resolution team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.

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