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Feuding football WAGs face hefty losses

LONDON - The verdict in the "Wagatha Christie" whodunnit involving the wives of two footballers is out and they both appear to be the losers.

Mrs Rebekah Vardy, the wife of English footballer Jamie Vardy, on Friday (July 29) lost her libel case against the wife of former England captain Wayne Rooney, a defeat that leaves her reputation in tatters and her facing significant legal costs.

A British court found that Mrs Coleen Rooney did not defame Mrs Vardy, after she publicly accused her of selling private Instagram posts to a British tabloid following a do-it-yourself "sting operation".

Mrs Vardy sued Mrs Rooney after the latter crafted a whodunnit post for her one million Instagram followers claiming Mrs Vardy had been posting fake photos and revealed her to be the leaker, reported Bloomberg.

The intrigue began almost three years ago when Mrs Rooney grew suspicious about stories in The Sun newspaper and turned detective to try to find the culprit.

She said she blocked everyone from viewing her Instagram account except one person and then posted a series of false stories to see whether they leaked out, which they did.

Mrs Rooney wrote on her social media accounts that only one person had viewed the false stories, concluding with the dramatic revelation: "It's... Rebekah Vardy's account."

Mrs Vardy, 40, subsequently sued Mrs Rooney and the feud was dubbed the WAGatha Christie case after the WAG moniker given to the glamorous group of footballers' wives and girlfriends and the renowned author of detective novels in honour of Mrs Rooney's sleuthing.

The seven-day trial in May captivated British media and the public as lurid details about fellow celebrities and colourful tabloid stories were pored over.

The pair battled over betrayal, reputation and secret media deals in an often rancorous showdown that at times resembled a reality TV show played out inside London's Victorian Gothic-style courthouse.

But the outcome is likely to be of little consolation for Mrs Rooney, given that the legal costs for each side will be upwards of £1 million (S$1.67 million).

And even if Mrs Rooney is able to recover 70 per cent of her legal bill - as assessed by media lawyer Jonathan Coad - she could still have about £300,000 to pay.

Any damages, if awarded, are likely to be in only the £15,000 to £40,000 range.

"It makes no sense for either of them," Mr Coad added. "Even the winner is going to come out with a massive loss."

Nevertheless, Mrs Vardy is likely to get the sharp end of the stick in any court ruling. Given that she lost her libel case against Mrs Rooney, she is not entitled to any damages, whereas Mrs Rooney's side is likely to send her a hefty bill.

According to some libel lawyers, Mrs Vardy's bill could be north of £2 million, though given her husband's premier league status, it is unlikely that the family will be reduced to penury.

Notably, the judges hearing the case had advised the feuding pair to settle out of court before the trial began in May, but neither side backed down. Consequently, both are now at the mercy of the specialist lawyers they have hired.

The damages from the court trial may be only the start, branding expert Chris Hunte, who runs talent management agency Addition, told the BBC, adding that the saga had been bad for both women professionally.

"Brands go into partnerships with celebrities to build consumer loyalty, ultimately increase sales and have positive PR (public relations) around associating with that person," he said.

"For both these ladies, the impact is huge, especially in the short run. They could be losing hundreds of thousands of pounds just from being involved in this case."

Football manager Wayne Rooney and his wife Coleen leaving the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, on May 13, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

English libel law placed the onus on Mrs Rooney to prove that her post alleging she had traced the leaked stories to Mrs Vardy was "substantially true".

Mrs Vardy, nevertheless, faced lengthy cross-examination and was even questioned in an interview where she derided the penis size of her previous boyfriend, pop singer Peter Andre, reported news agency AFP.

Her lawyer said his client was "entitled to an award of substantial libel damages" for serious harm to her reputation, to vindicate her and compensate for "distress caused by the publication".

Summing up, Mrs Rooney's lawyer alleged that Mrs Vardy "regularly and frequently leaked information to The Sun about a number of people... as opposed to simply Mrs Rooney".

He accused her of being "hand in glove" with her former agent, Mrs Caroline Watt, who did not testify and was unable to present a mobile phone she said she had dropped in the North Sea.

The lawyer alleged that Mrs Vardy selectively deleted messages ahead of the trial.

Mrs Vardy's lawyer said his client "made mistakes" by trusting Mrs Watt, who may have sought to leak stories.

But he said that their communications were "largely tittle-tattle, gossip" and there was no "contemporaneous evidence" of Mrs Vardy contacting the tabloid.

He said the case had been "serious and extremely upsetting" for his client.

On Friday, Judge Karen Steyn ruled that Mrs Vardy knew that her agent, Ms Watt, was providing content from Mrs Rooney's private social media account to journalists and "condoned this behaviour".

Mrs Vardy was "actively engaging by directing Mrs Watt to her private Instagram account, sending her screen shots of Mrs Rooney's posts, drawing attention to items of potential interest to the press, and answering additional queries raised by the press via Ms Watt," Judge Steyn said in the written ruling dismissing the claim.

Some of the posts made by Mrs Rooney that came under the spotlight during the trial included a picture of the side of a car that had been crashed into, with the words "RIP half a Honda".

Mrs Vardy claimed she did not tell her agent about the post, but the judge cited text messages exchanged between the pair.

Footballer Jamie Vardy and his wife Rebekah arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice on May 17, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Another was a picture posted by Mrs Rooney of her husband and their three sons in bed wearing matching pyjamas.

The next day, a headline in The Sun read: "Wayne Rooney is back at home - and in bed with Coleen - as she shares snaps with pals celebrating Halloween together".

In yet another post, Mrs Rooney posted a photo of the back of a plane seat, saying: "Let's go and see what this gender selection is all about."

The post was fabricated. But The Sun published an article with the headline: "Coleen Rooney travelled to Mexico to look into £8k 'gender selection' treatment in desperate bid to have baby girl".

One more fake post was a photo of a bottle of wine with the caption: "Needed after today… flood in the basement of our new house… when it seemed to be going so well."

Judge Steyn noted that there was "compelling evidence" the fabricated post was only visible to Mrs Vardy's account. But a headline in The Sun later read: "Wayne and Coleen Rooney's £20 million 'Morrisons mansion' flooded during Storm Lorenzo".

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