What the ‘Wagatha Christie’ saga says about Dragonfly Litigation in the UK – The Hollywood Reporter

Did Harry Styles Really Spit on Chris Pine? Why did Selena unfollow the Jenner sisters? Did Katy Perry Really Stole Taylor Swift’s Backup Dancers? Who knows.

Tabloid media and TikTok sleuths be damned, most celebrities end up without a satisfying denouement. After all, the court of public opinion has no power of summons. And what celebrity is small enough to spend millions of dollars – and years of their lives – airing their own dirty laundry?

WAGs, that’s who.

Short for Wives And Girlfriends, WAGs are the better halves of British Association Football (aka ‘football’) ultra-famous players. And when two go to war, an impeccably styled irresistible force meets a glamorous immobile object. While their husbands settle their differences on the field, WAGs take it to court.

It all started in the fall of 2019 when Coleen Rooney, wife of legendary (now retired) Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, noticed her private Instagram posts became tabloid fodder; specifically, The sun. Acting on suspicion, Rooney blocked all but one of his followers: Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy. She set up a series of false flags as bait, and when they resulted in headlines like “Coleen Rooney traveled to Mexico to look into £8k ‘gender selection’ treatment in a desperate bid to get a girl,” the fink was washed away. Rooney took to Twitter to accuse Vardy as a traitor and leaker.

The first-class detective work earned Rooney the nickname “Wagatha Christie.”

At that point, Vardy did the reasonable thing and… apologized sued. Rooney refused to back down. A high-stakes game of chicken ensued in the courts.

Vardy caught an early break in the case when the Honorable Ms Justice Steyn ruled that Rooney not only had to prove that the leaks came from Vardy, but that Vardy knew and intended to pass the information on to The sun. This is despite Rooney’s tweet only stating that the information came from Vardy’s account.

After three years of legal allegations and a multi-week trial, Rooney finally won earlier this summer. Based on damning text messages and Vardy’s co-conspirator, former cop Caroline Watt, who peeled off testifying, Judge Steyn concluded that Watt gave the tips to The sun commissioned by Vardy. Now Vardy is on the hook, not just for her attorneys’ fees, but for Rooney’s as well.

What could possibly have possessed Vardy to pursue a bullshit claim? I spoke to an American werewolf lawyer in London to find out. Adelaide Scardino Lopez is a Senior Associate at Wiggin, a leading media law firm.

Is life in the British libel courts always so exciting?

Lopez: This was a case that happened once every ten years. Complaints often concern a kind of tree surgeon who sues a trade journal about an article about how he cuts down trees.

What moves Vardy to file a lawsuit when she knows her agent was the source of the leaks?

I don’t think it was immediately apparent what a loser he was until the trial, because until then only Vardy knew the truth. Even Rooney assumed circumstantial evidence. Looks like Vardy really convinced herself she wasn’t a source because she didn’t leak directly to The sun or she just used the legal system to intimidate Rooney into backing out. Or she didn’t understand that her agent who “lost” her phone in the North Sea wouldn’t delete their incriminating WhatsApp messages from the cloud.

It’s not like Rooney accused Vardy of anything out of the ordinary.

Precisely. For lawsuits like this, any damages will be completely outweighed by the legal fees, so it’s almost purely an intellectual exercise for everyone. Only the lawyers come forward. It was the world’s most expensive twitter spit. The audience loved it – and the women each develop competing television projects based on the whole.

Was Rooney unusual in her fortitude?

She was, because she had the financial means to get through this and the willingness to spend millions instead of losing face.

Is the risk calculation different for UK publishers?

It is. “Wagatha Christie” was a one-off. Rooney is not regularly confronted with expensive lawsuits. On the other hand, publishers often apologize and settle – even when fully justified – because it’s too expensive to fight. There is no thumb on the scale for freedom of speech in the UK. Given that the burden of proof lies with the publisher, the opposite could be said.

Yet in the past year in the UK we have seen three high-profile defamation plaintiffs fail: Johnny Depp failed in his lawsuit against The sun (to later win a lawsuit against Amber Heard in the US), multimillionaire Brexit backer Arron Banks lost his lawsuit against author Carole Cadwalladr, and now Vardy just flopped against Rooney. Is there any reason to believe that the UK’s defamation law isn’t as terrible as thought?

We’ve seen a 50 percent drop in defamation cases filed over the past year. So that may reflect a change in strategy, but unfortunately for our media clients, the UK is still arguably the most claims-friendly jurisdiction in the world. Plaintiffs continue to gamble that if you threaten or initiate proceedings, this will be arranged. Even in this case, despite Vardy making a truly worthless claim, Judge Steyn really went out of his way to present her in a fairly sympathetic light.

How would you sum it all up?
In the words of one of my colleagues, Vardy certainly scored an own goal with this.

Daniel Novack is a publishing attorney, chairman of the New York State Bar Association Committee on Media Law, and co-host of the First Amendment podcast slander city. This article reflects only his personal views.

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