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England footballers’ wives libel spat ends with judgment reserved


London (AFP) – A headline-grabbing libel case over an online spat between two England footballers’ wives wrapped up on Thursday, after lifting the lid on tabloid double-dealing and the lives of the rich and famous.

Rebekah Vardy, whose husband Jamie plays for Leicester City, is suing Coleen Rooney, the wife of former Manchester United star Wayne, after she accused her of leaking stories to The Sun newspaper.

Coleen, the childhood sweetheart of England’s leading goalscorer, was dubbed “Wagatha Christie” after she set up an elaborate sting to try to determine who was behind the leaks, then announced her findings publicly.

“It’s… Rebekah Vardy’s account,” she said.

Fascination with the lives of the wives and girlfriends (WAGs) of top-flight footballers — and their very public falling-out — has produced wall-to-wall coverage since the case began last Tuesday.

Bystanders have even been waiting outside the hallowed Royal Courts of Justice in central London to snap the women as they attended proceedings.

Fevered online comment has divided support into two camps — #TeamColeen and #TeamRebekah. 

Articles have been written about the designer clothing worn to court and even Coleen’s surgical boot that she wore for an unspecified injury has attracted column inches, and comparisons to Wayne’s 2006 metatarsal injury before that year’s World Cup. 

Legal costs have reportedly run into millions of pounds (dollars, euros), and the women’s lawyers have previously represented Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and Chelsea Football Club’s former owner Roman Abramovich.

Vardy vehemently denies leaking details from Rooney’s private Instagram account and is seeking “substantial libel damages”, her lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, said.

But she faced accusations from Rooney’s lawyer David Sherborne of being “an entirely unreliable witness”.

After a week of testimony from the women, the lawyers presented final arguments Wednesday and the judge Karen Steyn reserved judgment to a later date.

– Peter Andre – 

For the final day of hearings, Vardy strode into court in a dark suit and green top. Rooney did not attend as the case overran and she had a previously booked holiday. 

The MailOnline site pictured the pair at Manchester Airport, Wayne grappling with the family’s suitcases before they jetted off to Dubai.

English libel law places the onus on Rooney to prove that her post alleging she had narrowed down the leaked stories to Vardy’s account is “substantially true”.

Vardy has nevertheless faced lengthy cross-examination and was even questioned on an interview where she derided the penis size of her previous boyfriend, the pop singer Peter Andre.

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

Summing up, Rooney’s lawyer alleged that 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, 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 Vardy is “not concerned about doing the dirty”, accusing her of selectively deleting messages ahead of the trial and said that the “thrust of the reveal post (by Rooney) is substantially true”.

Vardy’s lawyer presented a very different picture, saying his client “made mistakes” by trusting Watts, 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 Vardy contacting the tabloid. 

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

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