From an elaborate social media sting operation to claims of purposefully deleted digital evidence, the Wagatha Christie case had data at its forefront.
Between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy, the wives of former England footballers Wayne and Jamie, the case gained mass media coverage from the start. But how important was data in this case? And how did potential data spoliation slow down proceedings? This article will analyse the importance of preserving electronically stored information in legal matters.
- Wagatha Christie: An overview from a data perspective
- Data spoliation: What it is and why it played a role in the case
- Wagatha Christie evidence: Which data played a key role?
Wagatha Christie: An overview from a data perspective
The Wagatha Christie case first came to fruition in 2019, following a viral social media post by Coleen Rooney. She claimed Rebekah Vardy had been leaking personal stories from Rooney’s private Instagram account to The Sun newspaper.
Rooney’s claim was based on a sting operation which saw her block all other followers from viewing her Instagram Stories besides one account — Rebekah Vardy’s.
Rooney then claimed via social media that she had posted a ‘series of false stories’ to her account to see if they would make it into the newspaper. ‘And you know what, they did,’ she wrote in her statement.
Following the post, Vardy proceeded with an attempt to sue Rooney for libel, arguing her claims were false.
Vardy’s lawyers also claimed their client had suffered immensely due to Rooney’s allegation and she had been ‘subjected to abuse and threats of a horrific nature.’
The court ruled that Rooney must prove Vardy was responsible for leaking the stories to The Sun, along with convincing the judge that the publication of her allegation was in the public interest.
In February 2022, a series of ‘explosive messages’ were read as the case appeared in the High Court. These messages were sent between Vardy and Caroline Watt, Mrs. Vardy’s then-agent.
However, the court heard that Watt had dropped her phone into the North Sea, losing all of its contents, shortly after Rooney’s lawyers had asked to search the device.
In May, as the trial appeared before the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Rooney’s legal team declared there had been a ‘widespread and significant destruction or loss of evidence.’
On the final day of the trial, Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, told the court that Vardy was ‘a highly unreliable witness’. Vardy proceeded to walk out of the courtroom when being accused by Sherborne of lying under oath and deleting evidence.
On 29th July 2022, Vardy lost her High Court libel case against Rooney, bringing the Wagatha Christie saga to an end.
Data spoliation: What it is and why it played a role in the case
Data spoliation had a starring role in the Wagatha Christie case, with accusations of deletion of evidence coming from the defence. It’s the deletion or purposeful manipulation of files and data that could potentially be relevant in a legal matter.
Preserving electronically stored information (ESI) is hugely important in eDiscovery. Both sides of legal counsel have a duty to preserve ESI if the data can be used as evidence.
However, during the Wagatha Christie case, the loss of ESI was a key theme.
The court heard that Caroline Watt had dropped her phone into the North Sea as part of an effort to destroy evidence.
The defence’s claim was based on the event's timing, just days after Coleen Rooney’s legal team had requested that the device be searched to unearth WhatsApp messages between Watt and Vardy — evidence they believed could be crucial to a fair trial.
Rooney’s barrister, David Sherborne, told the High Court the event was ‘far from an accident’ and that the phone falling into the sea was an attempt to ‘cover up incriminating evidence’.
The court heard in April that Vardy was unable to disclose the WhatsApp messages between herself and Mrs. Watt from her device due to an IT expert forgetting the password to the backed-up data.
It was yet another data-retrieval issue that hugely impacted the long-running case, emphasising the importance of preserving ESI in legal matters.
Wagatha Christie evidence: Which data played a key role?
With the theme of data spoliation and loss of ESI throughout the case, which data surfaced and could be relied upon?
On 20th May 2022, a day after the conclusion of the trial, a 313-page bundle of evidence was released. Despite the claims of purposeful deletion of evidence, the 313-page bundle still contained several screenshots of WhatsApp conversations between Rebekah and Jamie Vardy, along with discussions between Mrs. Vardy and Caroline Watt.
The WhatsApp messages between Mrs. Vardy and her husband were dated during the Euro 2016 tournament, in which Mr. Vardy represented England.
Rebekah Vardy claimed the English press was ‘trying to make her into a scapegoat’. This followed media reports that there had been a request for Wayne Rooney to speak to Jamie Vardy about his wife, asking her to ‘lower her social media profile’ during the tournament.
Much was made in court of the missing WhatsApp files during the trial, with Vardy’s lawyers claiming the data had corrupted when she had tried to export it. In the WhatsApp screenshots released in the evidence bundle, Vardy can be seen lamenting over the loss of the files.
However, one of the core pieces of evidence was the Instagram screenshots from Coleen Rooney’s private account.
From images posted on the personal account to private Stories, solely viewed by Rebekah Vardy’s Instagram account, all later appearing in the press, the defendant had collated key digital evidence from her elaborate sting operation.
Thanks to the role that digital evidence played, Rooney was victorious in the trial, with judge Justice Karen Steyn saying the defendant proved her allegation to be ‘substantially true’.
The case provided a great example of the issues that the loss of ESI can cause, along with demonstrating the role that data and digital evidence can play in modern legal proceedings.
Luddite’s Guide to Analytics Tools
For legal professionals, keeping up with the ever-expanding world of data is challenging. As new technologies and channels emerge, how you deal with data is constantly changing.
But, as the volume of data grows, so does the number of tools that can manage them. So, how can you get the most out of data? Our Luddite’s Guide to Analytics Tools tackles:
- Dealing with data in law
- How to utilise analytics tools to their full potential
- Tech and eDiscovery solutions
To download your free copy, click below.
*Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only.