Rooney libel case collapses over woman's vice-girl past

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Wayne Rooney probably thought that tabloid revelations about his visit to a Liverpool brothel two years ago would quickly vanish into the mists of time. He apologised when his liaisons were splashed by The Sun and admitted he had been "young and stupid".

But the Manchester United striker had not counted on the determination of the woman he encountered at the Divas massage parlour, Patricia Tierney, and her husband. Piqued by the lurid stories, Mrs Tierney pursued The Sun for libel damages - a course of action which ended up with her husband single-handedly taking on the legal might of News International in some extraordinary court scenes yesterday.

After nearly three hours of argument, a judge struck out the libel claim, with potentially grave consequences for Mrs Tierney, 52, of Whiston, Merseyside. Her claim that she had never been a prostitute was "rotten", according to the Manchester County Court judge, Mr Justice Christopher Clarke, who is asking the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine what he considers to be a perversion of the course of justice. News International is also free to pursue her for about £200,000 in punitive damages.

Rooney was on notice to testify in the libel case until some evidence came to light last Tuesday. The Sun's lawyers were tipped off about a statement Mrs Tierney had provided to Merseyside Police in May 2002, which included an admission that she had worked as a sex worker for two years until early 2004. The information, which she volunteered in the course of an as-yet unsubstantiated complaint that a local police officer had demanded free sex at the massage parlour, also provided a sense of the services Rooney would have encountered in Divas. There was sex for £45 and "extra or different acts" negotiable with the prostitute. Mrs Tierney, who doubled up as receptionist, listed a black thong and bra set among her "working clothes".

Mrs Tierney had stood to win £233,000 damages, with £500,000 costs. But last Friday her lawyers withdrew from the case - and so it was her husband, Joe Riley, who argued for her yesterday.

It was the legal equivalent of Chelsea playing a village side at football. "I'm fighting for my life here. We're getting slaughtered," Mr Riley told the judge, glancing at News International's barrister, Anthony Hudson. "[They wrote to us saying] we'll pay you money for a dirty story [about Rooney]. I wrote [back] to say I don't want your money." Revelations about his wife's encounter with Rooney had resulted in graffiti attacks on their home and bricks being thrown at it, he added.

It was all to no avail. "It is clear that the central plank of the claimant's case, that she was not and had not been a prostitute... is rotten," the judge said.

Although News International could claim Mrs Tierney's house, sources suggest that it will not exacerbate Liverpool's hatred of The Sun by pursuing a woman on state benefits.

Outside court, Mr Riley said: "We just have to face up to the same nightmare we had ever since Rooney walked into that place."