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It’s not just a load of ‘Wagatha’ – What directors can learn from celebrity defamation cases

Being a defamation lawyer is not (just) about handling the delicate balance of celebrity interests. If the ‘Wagatha’ carousel has any lessons for directors in particular, it’s that above all else, commercial reputations can only be managed and protected by using an experienced commercial litigator who can navigate the many pitfalls of running a high-profile piece of litigation successfully.

Fighting or defending such a case successfully requires careful strategic advice on the presentation of witness evidence and the preservation of disclosable documents. Taking on or defending such a claim and losing can end up causing more commercial damage to your reputation and a potentially significant costs order to pay. Recently, we have seen a notable surge in defamation and privacy cases involving celebrities. From Hollywood stars to prominent public figures, accusations have been headline news.

However, defamation law is not about celebrities. The surge in such cases mirrors a broader trend impacting on businesses as well. In the digital age, anyone can publish potentially devastating defamatory content on the internet at the push of a button. There are no traditional gatekeepers like editors and publishers. People can hide behind pseudonyms or create content anonymously, false information can spread globally in moments and social media platforms mean defamatory material can potentially go viral.

How to succeed in defamation cases

When it comes to defamation cases regarding businesses, a single defamatory statement from a client, customer, competitor, existing/former employee or director can erode years of hard work, damaging relationships, credibility, and ultimately, profits.

To succeed in a defamation case:

  • A business must show that the statement that identifies them is defamatory (that an ordinary person would think worse of the business because of the statement) and it was published to a third party.
  • The harm needs to have caused, or be likely to cause, serious financial loss.

For businesses, defamatory remarks might include false accusations of misconduct, misleading statements about products or services, or disparaging remarks about the business owner or leadership. When faced with the effect of defamation, directors often consider taking legal action to protect their interests and restore their reputation. However, the path to justice in such cases can be complex and requires careful consideration and guidance from experienced commercial litigators.

The “Wagatha Christie” case

The high profile claim dubbed the “Wagatha Christie” case serves as a compelling reminder of the risks inherent in defamation claims, highlighting the importance of experienced litigation guidance, informed decision-making and strategic planning.

The case centred around two footballers’ wives and an accusation made by Colleen Rooney that fellow “WAG” Rebekah Vardy was leaking private information about her to the Sun newspaper without her knowledge or permission. Ms Vardy bought a defamation claim, saying that she needed to clear her name. Instead, she lost the case and only succeeded to damage her reputation further.

In the 75-page judgment dismissing Ms Vardy’s defamation case, Ms Vardy was described by the judge as an “untrustworthy witness” who likely destroyed potentially crucial evidence. There were many occasions when her evidence was seen to be manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence. It was noted that she was generally unwilling to make factual concessions, however implausible her position ended up being.

In stark contrast to this, Ms Rooney was found to be an honest and reliable witness. She sought to answer the questions she was asked without any evasion, and without conveying any sense that she was giving pre-prepared answers. Her evidence was consistent with the contemporaneous evidence and with the evidence given by her witnesses and was clear and compelling.

The judge remarked that it was striking that Ms Vardy had not relied on a key witness. The conclusion reached was that the witness was not called because her evidence would have been shown to be untrue when cross-examined and this would have undermined Ms Vardy’s case.

The judge also noted that what took the case out of the norm was the deliberate deletion or destruction of evidence.

We can readily assume that Ms Vardy was advised appropriately of the risks by highly experienced litigation lawyers. Ultimately it is the client, on the basis of the advice, who decides how to proceed. It is reported that Ms Rooney tried to settle the case but clearly no compromise could be reached.

Next steps

Having an experienced commercial litigation solicitor utilise their expertise to navigate a defamation case is essential. The presentation of evidence can be complex, and strategy is vital. Prosecuting a defamation case successfully means preserving a business client’s reputation and ensuring that the case presented provides that solution rather than becoming the problem itself. The first and most important step for directors fighting to protect their businesses’ reputation and launch or defend such a claim is to carefully chose the right business dispute lawyer to work alongside and advise upon and implement a winning commercial and legal strategy.

John Flint has over 25 years of commercial litigation experience advising directors and business owners how to navigate the many mine fields associated with defamation claims and helping to ameliorate the devastating impact such claims can have on a business’s hard won and previously unblemished commercial reputation.


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John Flint


John Flint is a Partner in Clarke Willmott’s commercial & private client litigation team specialising in director, shareholder and partnership disputes.
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