Defences to defamation: Rebekah Vardy -v- Coleen Rooney
The “Wagatha Christie Scandal” dominated headlines towards the end of last year following the social media fall-out between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.
For those not familiar with the story, Coleen Rooney wrote a series of posts on Twitter accusing Rebekah Vardy of leaking personal information about her to the Sun newspaper; this was on the basis that the leaked information could have only been taken from Coleen Rooney’s private “stories” on her Instagram account (access to which Coleen Rooney had limited to one account – Rebekah Vardy’s account).
The accusation was denied by Rebekah Vardy who claimed that access to her Instagram account was compromised and that individuals other than herself had access.
Notably, Rebekah Vardy spoke about how the stress of the accusations had caused her to have severe anxiety attacks and that she had to be hospitalised due to the stress caused by the online abuse she was receiving as a result of the accusations.
On 12 June 2020, Rebekah Vardy issued court proceedings against Coleen Rooney for defamation, relating to the posts with the allegedly false accusations and statements which Rebekah Vardy says were damaging to her reputation.
When a defamatory statement is published in written form, it is known as libel. If a defamatory statement is made in some temporary form such as it being spoken, it is known as slander. In the case of posts on Twitter, those publications, if defamatory, would constitute libel.
When considering libel, it is important to take into account how substantive that publication is and whether or not the defamatory material has been published to at least one person other than the writer. Given that Coleen Rooney has 1.2m followers on Twitter, Rebekah Vardy will be able to show there has been a substantial publication.
Section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 provides that libel will only be actionable where it can be shown that a defamatory statement did cause, or was likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
Damages are the primary remedy in libel actions and usually take the form of compensation for any distress caused or any losses caused by the damage to reputation. It will therefore be crucial for Rebekah Vardy to show how she has suffered serious harm to her reputation as a direct result of Coleen Rooney’s Twitter posts.
What damages Rebekah Vardy will be seeking is unclear but it seems likely she will at the very least ask the court for an order under section 13 of the Defamation Act 2013 for Twitter to remove the posts in question.
Defences available to Rooney
Sections 2 to 7 of the Defamation Act 2013 set out a number of potential defences to an allegation of defamation, however the defences most likely to be used by Coleen Rooney will be section 2 (truth) and section 3 (honest opinion).
Truth is an absolute defence to a defamation claim and it is likely to be Coleen Rooney’s strongest defence to the claim against her. Whilst the threshold for establishing truth as a defence is a high one to meet (it being necessary to show that the “imputation conveyed by the statement is substantially true”), Coleen Rooney’s legal team has already released a statement suggesting that there is further evidence supporting the accusations.
In order to utilise the defence of honest opinion it will be necessary for Coleen Rooney to demonstrate that the statement outlined in the Twitter post was a statement of opinion, that this was indicated within the Twitter post and that an honest person could have held the same opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time the alleged defamatory statement was published.
Interestingly, the actual Twitter post in question confirms that the leak has come from “Rebekah Vardy’s account” and does not specifically state it was Rebekah Vardy herself who leaked the stories to the Sun newspaper, although that is the inference.
Rebekah Vardy claims her Instagram account was accessible by people other than herself. However, it may be Coleen Rooney’s best defence is that the statement made was a true one; that the leaked stories came from Rebekah Vardy’s account.