The well-publicised libel case between the wives of two notable figures in the football world, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy is currently at trial in the High Court.
The dispute between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, dubbed the “Wagatha Christie Case” has presented some interesting legal issues in the build up to trial, in particular relating to purportedly significant evidence.
The dispute dates back to 2019. Mrs Rooney had a private Instagram account which had limited access to friends and family only. Mrs Vardy was one of her Instagram followers and Mrs Rooney suspected Mrs Vardy was leaking stories to The Sun newspaper about Mrs Rooney based upon information she would have seen / gathered by viewing Mrs Rooney’s Instagram stories. Following Mrs Rooney limiting who could see her Instagram stories to Mrs Vardy’s account only and posting fake Instagram stories online, which were later leaked to the Sun, Mrs Rooney took to her various public social media accounts to make the famous accusation, “It’s……..Rebekah Vardy’s account”.
Mrs Vardy has denied being the source of the leaks and has stated that there are multiple other people that have access to her Instagram account. In June 2020, Mrs Vardy issued proceedings for defamation against Mrs Rooney in relation to Mrs Rooney’s public accusation.
There have been a number of pre-trial applications, relating to the statements of case and in relation to disclosure of relevant evidence. In one of the preliminary hearings in February 2022, Mrs Rooney applied for Mrs Vardy’s former agent, Caroline Watt to be added to the legal proceedings and for specific disclosure of documents. The application for adding Ms Watt to the proceedings failed as the Court determined that the particular application had been brought too late and the procedural timetable for the additional claim would have to be significantly shortened to ensure the timetable to the main claim was adhered to. Further, Mrs Rooney had failed to engage in the required pre-action protocol with Ms Watt. The application for a disclosure order followed a number of redactions applied to WhatsApp messages between her and Ms Watt. Further, the application was made amidst a background of a number of unfortunate incidents in relation to Mrs Vardy’s disclosure, such as:
- Ms Watt’s mobile phone, which she used during the period January 2019 to August 2021, was accidentally dropped by Ms Watt in the North Sea, after hitting a wave whilst on a boat trip. This was shortly after a hearing on 4 August 2021 of which it was held that her phone would have to be analysed. The messages with Mrs Vardy on WhatsApp were not backed up.
- Ms Watt’s Twitter account had been completely deleted two days after Mrs Rooney made her initial allegation against Mrs Vardy.
- Mrs Vardy’s laptop, which used during the relevant period was said to “no longer function”.
- An IT expert, instructed by Mrs Vardy, lost the password to her WhatsApp backup files in relation to a separate set of WhatsApp messages.
- Other relevant WhatsApp messages appeared to have been deleted.
It is important to note that the Court rules (the Civil Procedure Rules) place an obligation on all parties to litigation to preserve all electronic documents (which includes WhatsApp and text messages) as soon as litigation is contemplated.
Mrs Rooney’s application was granted in part and Mrs Justice Steyn criticised Mrs Vardy’s disclosure in relation to certain redactions and ordered Mrs Vardy’s solicitors to undertake a manual review of documents. However, it is the effect of the above examples in relation to disclosure that may have an impact on the trial itself and the Court’s decision.
The build up to the trial and the pre-trial hearings has provided a reminder to anyone thinking about entering into litigation of the importance of preserving any form of relevant documents (whether electronic or hard copy). Obtaining and following professional legal advice at the earliest stage possible is advisable as getting disclosure wrong can be detrimental to the credibility of a party’s case.
The trial is currently ongoing and it will be very interesting to see whether the above mentioned issues in relation to disclosure have an impact on the decision and to what extent.
If you are involved in a dispute or contemplated litigation and want advice then please contact Gordon Monaghan or Harry Georgiou in the Dispute Resolution team.
Posted on May 13, 2022