Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney: WAGs war and the law – Part 3
As the war of the WAGs continues to rumble on, a number of interesting legal considerations have emerged.
In part two of our series discussing the ongoing dispute between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, we considered the approach taken by the court in ensuring that parties comply with their disclosure obligations. This article explores the court’s recent determination of Mrs Rooney’s application for non-party disclosure.
Mrs Rooney sought an order from the court against News Group Newspapers Ltd (the publisher of The Sun newspaper) for disclosure of communications between Mrs Vardy and nine journalists: (1) Andy Halls, (2) Amy Brookbanks, (3) Simon Boyle, (4) Dan Wootton, (5) Hannah Hope, (6) Beth Neil, (7) Ellie Henman, (8) Jane Atkinson, and (9) Victoria Newton.
Mrs Rooney also sought an order for disclosure of communications between Mrs Vardy’s agent, Caroline Watt, and the same nine journalists.
The application was made pursuant to CPR 31.17, under which the court may make an order for disclosure by a person who is not a party to the proceedings provided that:
- The documents of which disclosure is sought are likely to support the case of the applicant or adversely affect the case of one of the other parties to the proceedings; and
- Disclosure is necessary in order to dispose fairly of the claim or to save costs.
Communications with Andy Halls
Mr Halls is the author of three articles published by The Sun which used posts from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account that Mrs Rooney alleges were disclosed by Mrs Vardy.
There was evidence that communications existed between Mrs Vardy and Mr Halls, and between Ms Watt and Mr Halls. For example, in a WhatsApp exchange with Mrs Vardy, Ms Watt stated “Halls is trying to do a story on Coleen crashing her car but her PR won’t even reply. I’ve told him I’m 100% confident that it happened but don’t know how”. Ms Watt also shared an image of the damage caused by the car crash, which Mrs Vardy appeared to confirm was the same damage (but a different picture) to that which had been posted on Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account. In other WhatsApp exchanges, Ms Watt referred to sending messages to Mr Hall in relation to information passed on by Mrs Vardy regarding both Mrs Rooney and football player Danny Drinkwater.
In light of this evidence, the court considered that the communications with Mr Halls was likely to support both Mrs Rooney’s core case in relation to disclosure of posts from her private Instagram account, as well as her broader case, that Mrs Vardy had an established history and habitual practice of providing private information the press, either directly or through third parties acting as approved / condoned by Mrs Vardy. The court was therefore satisfied that the test in CPR 31.17 was met and made the order sought in relation to communications with Mr Halls.
Communications with the other journalists
Mrs Vardy had disclosed communications between herself and five of the journalists (Amy Brookbanks, Simon Boyle, Dan Wootton, Hannah Hope, and Beth Neil), but Mrs Rooney did not rely on any of the disclosed exchanges as evidence that there must be other relevant communications.
The court considered WhatsApp exchanges between Mrs Vardy and Ms Watt which referenced (or allegedly referenced) the other eight journalists, but concluded the there was no evidence to indicate that there was any written communication between either Mrs Vardy or Ms Watt and the eight journalists.
The court found that it was “apparent that the defendant has named each of these eight journalists in order to cast the net wide enough, without being in a position to show that communications with any identified journalist exist other than with Mr Halls” and that Adam Wolanski QC (on behalf of News Group Newspapers Ltd) was “right to characterise the application (save to the extent that it relates to communications with Mr Halls) as a “fishing expedition””.
The court concluded that the requirements of CPR 31.17 had not been met and therefore refused Mrs Rooney’s application in respect of the other eight journalists.
The court also considered an application made by Mrs Vardy in relation to witness statements. We will discuss the court’s consideration of this application in part four of our series. The full judgment made by the court can be read here.
This case has demonstrated that the court will not make any orders for non-party disclosure lightly, particularly if it considers that any applications for such disclosure are merely a “fishing expedition”. For guidance on the disclosure process, contact our expert commercial litigation team on 020 7632 4300 or make an enquiry.