Prince Harry lawyers accuse Rupert Murdoch of hard drive cover-up in phone hacking scandal

The Duke and other claimants are seeking to include Murdoch and chief executive Rebekah Brooks personally in their claims

Holly Evans
Wednesday 20 March 2024 15:12 GMT
Prince Harry hit out at Rebekah Brooks in his memoir

Lawyers for Prince Harry have accused Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World publisher of giving false evidence over a hard drive that went missing during a phone hacking investigation.

The Duke of Sussex and other claimants are now seeking to include the magnate personally in allegations of a cover-up by senior executives at the newspaper group, as well as chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

A High Court hearing heard that a computer hard drive belonging to Ms Brooks, went missing in May 2011 and that News Group Newspapers (NGN) gave false evidence to “explain away” its disappearance.

Prince Harry’s case against The Sun publisher is due for trial next January (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The 39-year-old duke is among several other individuals suing NGN over allegations of unlawful information-gathering, including the use of private investigators, between the mid-1990s and 2016.

Other public figures bringing action against the Sun and the former News of the World include Hugh Grant, filmmaker Guy Ritchie and Baroness Lawrence, mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Lawyers for Harry claim media mogul Rupert Murdoch was involved in the phone hacking cover up (AP)

In his written arguments, David Sherborne, representing Harry and the other people bringing claims, said it had already been alleged that the hard drive of Ms Brooks’ computer was “sequestered and/or destroyed deliberately in order to conceal her and others’ knowledge of wrongdoing at NGN”.

The group taking action wishes to include further documents in the claim, including a 2021 witness statement from an IT engineer at NGN who said the hard drive was intact in an audit in January 2011 but was found to be missing during a “routine inspection” in May that year.

In a three-day hearing starting on Wednesday, lawyers for the claimants asked Judge Timothy Fancourt for permission to change the details of their generic case against NGN to include what they argue would be further evidence of a cover-up by senior executives at the newspaper group.

NGN is resisting the application, with its lawyers saying the changes are “wholly unnecessary” and “positively undesirable”.

The publisher’s lawyers said the attempt to change the particulars of the case was unnecessary, disproportionate and irrelevant, introducing 200 new journalists, executives and private investigators, along with extremely serious allegations.

Rebekah Brooks has denied involvement in unlawful activity while editor of The Sun (PA) (PA Archive)

“It has become increasingly clear that at least some members of the claimant group appear to be using this document as a vehicle for wider campaigning interests against the tabloid press,” Anthony Hudson, NGN’s lawyer, told the court.

A trial of the duke’s and others’ claims is expected to be held in January next year.

Mr Justice Fancourt previously ruled that Harry could not bring a claim in relation to phone hacking against NGN and that he could not rely on an alleged “secret agreement” between the royal family and senior executives working for media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

In 2012, NGN apologised for widespread phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World, which was forced to shut down amid a backlash.

The publisher has since settled more than 1,300 claims, including to Catherine Tate and presenter Chris Moyles, but the group has always rejected allegations of any wrongdoing by staff at the Sun.

Harry’s lawyer David Sherborne asked to widen the scope of the group’s claims (Reuters)

A spokesman for News UK, NGN’s parent company, previously said it had made an “unreserved apology” in 2011 to victims of phone hacking at the News of the World.

They said it was “drawing a line” under some cases and paying damages to those with “proper claims”, but that it did not accept liability or make any admissions to disputed allegations in ongoing claims against The Sun.

Brooks, a former Sun editor, was found not guilty of hacking and other crimes following an eight-month trial in 2014.

In his submissions, Mr Sherborne said that Murdoch and Brooks knew that NGN’s original statement that just “one rogue reporter” had been involved in unlawful information gathering was false.

The hearing is due to conclude on Friday, with Mr Justice Fancourt expected to give judgment at a later date.

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