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Home // Rooney v Vardy Defamation: A Cautionary Tale

Rebecca Vardy’s decision to sue Coleen Rooney for an allegedly libelous tweet unleashed a real tabloid frenzy. In some ways the manner in which the case was reported in newspapers, on TV and across social media was frivolous. And many observers probably concluded that there was little of substance to consider. However, the case is a useful illustration of how to mount a successful defence to a claim of libel on social media. It also serves as a warning to anyone thinking of suing for libel to get specialist legal advice and consider their position carefully before going down the road of litigation. As Rebecca Vardy learned to her cost, failing in a claim like this can be personally and financially devastating.

At Nath Solicitors in London we run a well-respected defamation practice and advise individuals, including many high-profile public figures, on defamation and related matters. If you have concerns, feel free to reach out to our director Shubha Nath directly on contact 44 (0) 203 983 8278. You can also get in touch with the firm online.

We look at the Vardy v Rooney case below, explaining how one limb of Ms. Rooney’s defence succeeded while another failed.


Ms. Vardy sued Ms. Rooney for libel. Her claim centered on a Tweet published by Ms. Rooney in October 2019. It appeared to suggest that Ms. Vardy was informing the press – notably The Sun newspaper – of private information originating from Ms. Rooney’s Instagram account. The post referred to in the judgment as ‘The Reveal Post’ was lengthy. As is common in libel trials there was a preliminary hearing to decide what the ordinary meaning of the words Ms. Vardy was complaining about meant. Such hearings are designed to focus minds, isolate issues and save time and costs. The ordinary meaning ascribed to Ms. Rooney’s tweet at the preliminary hearing was as follows:

“Over a period of years Ms. Vardy had regularly and frequently abused her status as a trusted follower of Ms. Rooney’s personal Instagram account by secretly informing The Sun newspaper of Ms. Rooney’s private posts and stories, thereby making public without Ms. Rooney’s permission a great deal of information about Ms. Rooney, her friends and family which she did not want made public.”

Both sides accepted that the words were defamatory. In legal terms this meant their publication had a substantially adverse effect on the way that right-thinking members of society generally would treat Ms. Vardy.

There was no dispute either that the publication – the tweeting – of the words had caused or was likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of Ms. Vardy – the test required for a libel case to be made out under s.1 of the Defamation Act, 2013 (the Act).

So what defences dd Ms Rooney put forward?


Ms. Rooney adopted a two-prong approach to her defence. She argued firstly that the words were substantially true (Section 2 of the Act) and adduced voluminous documentary evidence in support of her case.

Secondly, she argued, under Section 4 of the Act that her ‘Reveal Post’ was a statement in the public interest i.e. because it sought to highlight the undesirable practice of information about celebrities’ private lives being disclosed to the press by trusted individuals.


Mrs Justice Steyn decided as follows:

  • Rooney’s tweet was substantially true – The decision of Mrs Justice Steyn was widely reported. She concluded that Ms Vardy had to an extent disclosed information to The Sun. This was information to which she only had access as a permitted follower of Ms. Rooney’s Instagram account. And she knew this information was private. This meant that the ‘Reveal Post’ – the words complained of – were substantially true and Ms. Rooney’s defence deserved to succeed.

It did not matter, according to the judge that the information Ms. Vardy leaked was not deeply confidential. Nor did it matter that it was trivial in many respects. And even though Ms. Rooney had fabricated some stories, all the information was from a private account that Ms. Rooney did not want made public. In short none of these factors distracted from what Steyn J described as the ‘essential sting’ of the libel.

  • Rooney’s tweet did not meet the public interest test – Although Steyn J accepted that the Reveal Post was on a matter of public interest, she did not agree that Ms Rooney’s belief that it was (the second requirement for the Defamation Act public interest test) was reasonable in all the circumstances. In particular, it was not reasonable to believe that it was in the public interest to publish the Reveal Post without giving Ms. Vardy an opportunity to respond. 


The effect of the case on Ms. Vardy has been well documented. As the judge highlighted:

‘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. 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.’

Ms. Vardy has also had to pay substantial legal fees.

A Nath Solicitors we will fight your corner in court if that is the best strategy. But we’ll also be strenuous in using all forms of ADR, negotiation and discreet resolution of the issues that have caused you concern to avoid the expense and uncertainty of full-blown litigation.


For advice on defamation and dispute resolution please contact Shubha Nath at Nath Solicitors on 44 (0) 203 983 8278 or get in touch with the firm online.


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