By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Coleen Rooney, wife of former England soccer captain Wayne, emerged victorious in her high-profile libel match with the spouse of an ex-teammate after a High Court judge agreed that Rebekah Vardy had leaked stories about her to the press.
In a case that has gripped the public with its mix of glamour, soccer, and amateur sleuthing, the judge backed Rooney's public assertion that Vardy had spilled private details about her to the Sun tabloid, leaving Vardy "devastated".
The intrigue began almost three years ago when Rooney grew suspicious about stories in the Sun 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.
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."
Vardy, 40, sued Rooney and the feud was dubbed the "WAGatha Christie" case after the "WAG" moniker given to a group of footballers' wives and girlfriends, and the renowned author of detective novels in honour of Rooney's sleuthing.
The judge, Justice Karen Steyn, said Rooney proved her allegation was "substantially true". She concluded that Vardy knew and condoned details being leaked to the Sun by her agent Caroline Watt.
"It was not a case I ever sought or wanted," Rooney said in a statement.
"I never believed it should have gone to court at such expense ... when the money could have been far better spent helping others," she added.
Any decision over who foots the legal fees will be settled at a future hearing. British media have speculated the trial cost millions of pounds.
"Although I bear Mrs Vardy no ill-will, today’s judgment makes clear that I was right in what I said in my posts of October 2019," Rooney said.
Vardy said she was "extremely sad and disappointed at the decision".
"It is not the result that I had expected, nor believe was just. I brought this action to vindicate my reputation and am devastated by the judge's finding," she said in a statement. "(The judge) got it wrong and this is something I cannot accept."
BOTTOM OF THE SEA
During the trial in May, the court was shown message exchanges between Vardy and Watt, which included derogatory remarks about Rooney and talk of leaking stories. Rooney's lawyer said Vardy deleted other media files and messages.
Watt's phone ended up at the bottom of the North Sea after she said she accidentally dropped it over the side of a boat.
"It is likely that Ms Vardy deliberately deleted her WhatsApp chat with Ms Watt, and that Ms Watt deliberately dropped her phone in the sea," Steyn said.
The judge found Rooney to be honest but said some of Vardy's testimony was not credible and there had been "a degree of self-deception on her part regarding the extent to which she was involved".
The courtroom bust-up has attracted similar level of public attention to any of their husbands' soccer games.
Wayne Rooney holds the record for the most international goals for England, while Vardy's husband Jamie has been one of the top scorers in the English Premier League in recent years, also playing and scoring for the national side.
Both women are well-known in their own right -- Coleen Rooney, 36, has 1.2 million followers on Twitter and almost 925,000 on Instagram -- and the libel case lifted the lid on their glittering lifestyles, and less flattering aspects such as the Rooneys' marriage troubles.
Vardy says her family had received abuse and threats as a result of Rooney's public accusation and Steyn agreed it was not in the public interest for the disclosure to have been made by Rooney without giving Vardy the chance to respond first.
"Some members of the public have responded to the Reveal Post by subjecting Ms Vardy to vile abuse, including messages wishing her, her family, and even her (then unborn) baby, ill in the most awful terms," Steyn said.
"Nothing of which Ms Vardy has been accused, nor any of the findings in this judgment, provide any justification or excuse for subjecting her or her family, or any other person involved in this case, to such vitriol."
(Reporting by Michael Holden;Editing by Alison Williams)