Soccer wife loses UK libel case against other soccer wife who sleuthed her as tabloid leaker and told the world

Picture the world of Premiership Football wives and girlfriends, the world that Ted Lasso paints so pleasantly. One of them, Colleen Rooney, cleverly determined which of her "friends" was selling her life to the tabloids: she used an Instagram feature which let her limit who saw which posts, and waited to see what leaked. She announced a culprit—"Rebekah Vardy's account". Vardy sued Rooney for libel, claiming she had not done so. But even with England's plaintiff-friendly libel laws, Vardy has now lost her case. Her reputation, writes Guardian media editor Jim Waterson, is "destroyed."

The judge concluded that "significant parts" of Vardy's evidence were not credible and that there were many occasions when her evidence "was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence, evasive or implausible".

She also said that Vardy and her former agent Caroline Watt had deliberately destroyed potentially damning evidence. In one instance, WhatsApp messages on Watt's phone were lost after the device was dropped off the side of a boat in the North Sea shortly after a request was made to search it. Vardy's own copy of the same WhatsApp messages was lost while in the process of backing them up.

The judge concluded: "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."

She also concluded that it was likely Vardy "knew of, condoned and was actively engaged" in the process of Watt leaking stories about Rooney to the Sun.

There was not much reputation to destroy here, frankly, and Vardy admitted in court that her publicist had access to her account and may have done the deed on her behalf. The whole imbroglio was interesting as it seemed to return England to a time—not so long ago!—when even truth was not a surefire defense to a claim of libel.

This led to overwhelming interest in the case not only from the tabloid set but UK media at large. Even with the right outcome, the slow pace of the trial and the vast costs inflicted on the defendant are a loud warning to would-be truth tellers.

An ancient precedent did ultimately matter, though: one from 1722 which instructs judges to assume that destroyed evidence disfavors the destroyer. Maybe that will matter here, too.