Prince Harry’s phone hacking claims against Sun publisher thrown out by judge

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, leaving the Mirror Group Phone hacking trial at the Rolls Building at High Court on June 7

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, leaving the Mirror Group Phone hacking trial at the Rolls Building at High Court on June 7 – GC Images

Prince Harry’s phone hacking claims against News Group Newspapers have been thrown out by a judge who ruled that only part of his lawsuit will go to a trial in the High Court.

The Duke of Sussex has accused Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group of phone-hacking and other unlawful activities to gather information on him from the mid-1990s until 2016.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Fancourt ruled in favour of the argument by NGN that the Duke was aware enough of the phone hacking scandal to bring his case sooner.

The Duke’s claims of voicemail interception and phone hacking at the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World will therefore not be brought to trial, in what NGN described as a “significant victory”.

However, the High Court judge said he would allow the Duke to proceed on his claims about other unlawful intrusions by NGN, such as the alleged use of private investigators and blagging.

A spokesperson for the Murdoch-owned publisher said the ruling “substantially reduces the scope of [the Duke’s] legal claim”.

Prince Harry sued NGN at the High Court over multiple alleged unlawful acts that he claims were carried out by journalists and private investigators on behalf of its tabloids, the Sun and the News of the World.

In April, NGN sought to have the lawsuit thrown out, arguing the case should have been brought sooner.

Secret agreement with Palace ‘implausible’

Mr Fancourt also refused the Duke’s permission to amend his claim after he alleged that a secret deal brokered between Buckingham Palace and NGN executives had stopped him from bringing the hacking claim until September 2019.

He described the Duke’s case in relation to the “secret agreement” as “implausible” and “inherently unlikely”, noting that the only evidence supporting its existence was the Duke’s own witness statement, which he described as “vague and limited”.

NGN, which denies any unlawful activity took place at The Sun, has vehemently denied that such an agreement exists.

At a hearing in London earlier this month, lawyers for the Duke said there is evidence to support the existence of the agreement, including emails between senior executives at the Murdoch-owned parent companies of NGN and palace staff in 2017 and 2018.

David Sherborne, representing Prince Harry, also argued in written arguments that the fact the Prince of Wales settled a claim against NGN “for a very large sum of money” in 2020 also “supports the contention that there was a secret agreement in place”.

Anthony Hudson KC, representing NGN, said that the Duke’s claims of a secret agreement was “Alice in Wonderland stuff” and a “construct” of his lawyers.

The Duke with his lawyer David Sherborne in June

The Duke leaves High Court with his lawyer David Sherborne in June – HANNAH MCKAY/REUTERS

Mr Justice Fancourt handed down his ruling on Thursday morning that part of the Duke’s damages claim could now proceed to a trial, which is due to begin in January next year.

The Judge had previously ruled in May that a claim by actor Hugh Grant over alleged unlawful information gathering – other than allegations of phone hacking – can also go ahead to be tried next January.

Grant, 62, is suing NGN in relation to The Sun only, having previously settled a claim with the publisher in 2012 relating to the News Of The World.

NGN has previously settled a number of claims since the phone-hacking scandal broke in relation to the News of the World, which closed in 2011, but has consistently denied unlawful information gathering took place at The Sun.

The judge’s ruling on Thursday follows the Duke’s high-profile court appearance last month in his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers for alleged unlawful information gathering at the Mirror titles.

During the trial, lawyers for MGN accused the Duke of bringing the litigation “as a vehicle to seek to reform the British media” as part of his ongoing crusade.

Prince Harry giving evidence in court against Mirror Group Newspapers

Prince Harry giving evidence in court against Mirror Group Newspapers last month – Elizabeth Cook/PA

In closing submissions, they argued that the Duke’s claim had “failed to withstand scrutiny” and that he had failed to identify any evidence.

Prince Harry has been involved in six legal battles at the High Court in recent months, three of which he has brought against British tabloid publishers over allegations of unlawful information gathering.

‘Significant victory for News Group Newspapers’

A spokesperson for NGN said after the ruling: “The High Court has today, in a significant victory for News Group Newspapers, dismissed The Duke of Sussex’s phone hacking claims against both the News Of The World and The Sun.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago.

“In arguing his case, the Duke of Sussex had alleged a ‘secret agreement’ existed between him/Buckingham Palace and NGN which stopped NGN from asserting that the Duke’s claim had been brought too late.

“The Judge, Mr Justice Fancourt, found his claims in relation to the alleged ‘secret agreement’ were not plausible or credible. It is quite clear there was never any such agreement and it is only the Duke who has ever asserted there was.

“Mr Justice Fancourt then dismissed the Duke’s phone hacking claims against both the News Of The World and The Sun on the grounds that the claim had been brought too late.

“This substantially reduces the scope of his legal claim. The exact nature and scope of any trial of the remainder will be the subject of further hearings.”

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