LONDON: The stakes rose on Tuesday in a courtroom battle between the wives of former England football stars Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy as new vitriol emerged and a judge described mounting legal fees as "extraordinarily large".
Rebekah Vardy is suing her former friend Coleen Rooney for libel after Rooney accused her on Twitter and Instagram of leaking stories about her private life to the Sun tabloid newspaper. Vardy denies the leaks and says Rooney's accusation harmed her reputation and led to her being the target of abuse.
Both belong to a glamorous group of footballers' wives and girlfriends, known in Britain as the WAGs, who are celebrities in their own right with huge social media followings.
The libel battle has been dubbed "WAGatha Christie", a reference to the sleuth-like tactics used by Rooney, who planned and executed a sting operation to find out who was leaking material from her private Instagram posts to the Sun.
At a pre-trial hearing held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, London's High Court was told that Vardy was seeking to have chunks of Rooney's defence thrown out before a trial begins on the basis that they were not directly relevant.
The contentious points included allegations by Rooney that Vardy cultivated close ties with journalists for self-promotion and financial reward, and that she had given them private information not only about Rooney but about other people.
Rooney also alleged that Vardy was "the Secret WAG", an anonymous Sun columnist.
The court also heard that Vardy's estimated budget to fight the case was 897,000 pounds (US$1.24 million), a sum described as "grotesque" by Rooney's counsel, who complained that Vardy's lawyers had already spent twice as much as his side.
In such cases, estimated costs have to be agreed ahead of time so that there are no bad surprises for the loser, who will have to pay the winner's fees.
The judge, Roger Eastman, described both sides' budgets as extraordinarily large and urged them to "reconsider them with a fine tooth comb".
He instructed Vardy's lawyers to make their formal application for the striking out of parts of Rooney's defence by the end of March. He said another judge would deal with that, and he expected a decision could be made by the end of May.
A new hearing on costs and on planning for the substantive trial was set for July, with the trial itself unlikely to take place until several months after that, he said.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Giles Elgood)