Ms Vardy, 40, sued Ms Rooney, 36, for defamation after being accused of passing stories to The Sun.
The wife of former England footballer Wayne Rooney posted on social media that a months-long “sting operation” had pointed to Ms Vardy being the source of “false stories”. Ms Vardy, who is married to Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, denied the accusation and sued for libel; Ms Rooney defended the claim, saying her post was “substantially true”.
In a much-anticipated ruling on Friday, Ms Justice Steyn found that even if Ms Vardy was not the direct source of the leak, evidence showed that she “knew of, condoned and actively engaged” in the passing of information to The Sun.
Ms Rooney welcomed the ruling, but said that she regretted the need for an expensive court battle “in times of hardship for so many”, while Ms Vardy said she was “sad and disappointed”.
In her ruling, Ms Justice Steyn said it was “likely” Ms Vardy’s agent at the time, Caroline Watt, “undertook the direct act” of passing the information to the newspaper.
But she added: “Nonetheless, the evidence ... clearly shows, in my view, that Mrs Vardy knew of and condoned this behaviour, actively engaging in it by directing Ms Watt to the private Instagram account, sending her screenshots 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.”
The High Court judge also said there was “a degree of self-deception” on Ms Vardy’s part about her role in disclosing information, and that she seemed “genuinely offended” by Ms Rooney’s accusation.
She said: “Although significant parts of Mrs Vardy’s evidence were not credible, my assessment is that she is genuinely offended by the accusation made against her by Mrs Rooney in the reveal post.
“However, that is not because she was not involved in disclosing information from the private Instagram account: I have found that she was. Rather, her indignation at the accusation flows, in my judgement, from a combination of factors.
“Mrs Vardy’s part in disclosing information to The Sun was, it seems to me, unthinking rather than part of a considered and concerted business practice. Consequently, there has been a degree of self-deception on her part regarding the extent to which she was involved, as well as a degree of justified resentment at the exaggerated way in which her role has at times been presented during the litigation.”
Ms Rooney took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on 19 October 2019 to issue an astonishing attack on Ms Vardy, accusing her of betraying her confidence. The statement, which quickly went viral, explained how Ms Rooney had become concerned that stories from her private Instagram account were being passed on to the press.
She explained how she had decided to set a trap for the leaker and posted a series of false stories to see if they would find their way into the media. Acting on her suspicions, she limited who could see her Instagram stories until only one account remained – that of Rebekah Vardy.
“I blocked everyone from viewing my Instagram stories except ONE account,” Ms Rooney explained. “Over the past five months I have posted a series of false stories to see if they made their way into The Sun newspaper. And, you know what, they did!
“I have saved and screenshotted all the original stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them,” she continued, before dramatically revealing: “It’s……… Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
During the trial, Ms Vardy accepted it was possible that her friend and former agent Ms Watt may have been the source of some of the leaks.
Her lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson QC, told the High Court during his closing statement that Ms Vardy “does not know to this day what happened, she does not know where this information came from”.
“It is possible, as she now accepts, that the source of the leak could well be Caroline Watt,” he said. “Mrs Vardy has obviously made mistakes. One of the mistakes that she made ... is that she trusted someone she shouldn’t have trusted.”
Ms Rooney stood by her “Wagatha Christie” reveal post throughout the trial, saying in a written statement to the court: “I have always been confident in the truth of what I posted on October 9 2019.”
Reacting to the ruling, Ms Rooney said she was “pleased” it had gone in her favour but that she “never believed” the case should have gone to court “at such expense in times of hardship for so many people, when the money could have been far better spent helping others”.
She added in a statement: “Both before and after my social media posts in October 2019, I made every effort to avoid the need for such a drawn out and public court case. All my attempts to do so were knocked back by Mrs Vardy.
“This left me with no alternative but to go through with the case, to defend myself and to end the repeated leaking of my private information to The Sun.
“These leaks from my private Instagram account began in 2017. They continued for almost two years, intruding on my privacy and that of my family. 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.
“Finally, I would like to thank all of my legal team, my family, friends and everyone who supported me, including the public, through this difficult and stressful time.”
Ms Vardy released a statement saying she was “extremely sad and disappointed” at the judge’s decision. She said the judge had “got it wrong” and she could not accept the ruling. “I am extremely sad and disappointed at the decision that the judge has reached,” she said.
“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.
“The judge accepted that publication of Coleen’s post was not in the ‘public interest’ and she also rejected her claim that I was the ‘Secret Wag’. But as for the rest of her judgment, she got it wrong and this is something I cannot accept.”