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Prince Harry phone-hacking lawyers say Rupert Murdoch ‘personally involved in cover-up of wrongdoing’

Tycoon, 93, gave knowingly false evidence, court documents allege

Jane Dalton
Wednesday 20 March 2024 19:47 GMT
Related video: James and Rupert Murdoch ‘regret’ phone-hacking

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch was personally involved in a cover-up of wrongdoing, Prince Harry’s lawyers have alleged.

The Duke of Sussex and more than 40 other people are suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) over accusations of unlawful invasions of privacy by its tabloids, The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.

The lawyers claim Mr Murdoch, 93, gave “knowingly false” evidence and that Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News UK, News Corp’s British newspaper arm, “lied and/or gave deliberately misleading evidence” at her criminal trial in 2014.

In documents submitted to the High Court, the claimants also identified Will Lewis, a former News International executive and now publisher of the Washington Post, as being involved in the alleged cover-up.

The case against NGN is due to go to a trial, lasting up to eight weeks, beginning in January. It is one of six legal battles the prince has involved himself in.

Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks are accused of giving false evidence (PA)

The lawyers have also claimed that a computer hard drive belonging to Ms Brooks went missing in May 2011 and that NGN gave false evidence to the police to “explain away” its disappearance.

The other claimants include British film director Guy Ritchie, actor Hugh Grant, several former senior politicians and campaigner Doreen Lawrence, who, along with the prince, is also part of a separate lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily Mail.

Their lawyers have asked Judge Timothy Fancourt for permission to add new allegations to their case against the company, including that senior executives gave misleading evidence to parliament and a public inquiry.

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

A company spokesperson said the claimants had made the allegations against current and former NGN staff “in a scurrilous and cynical attack on their integrity”.

Prince Harry’s lawyers have accused Mr Murdoch over phone hacking (AP)

“These allegations have nothing to do with seeking compensation for victims of phone-hacking or unlawful information-gathering and should be viewed with considerable caution,” the spokesperson added.

The company’s lawyers said the new allegations, introducing for the first time 200 journalists, executives and private investigators, were unnecessary, disproportionate and irrelevant.

“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.

Mr Hudson said in court filings that allegations in relation to Ms Brooks and others effectively required NGN “to enter into the re-running of criminal trials or an inquiry into an inquiry”.

In 2011, NGN apologised for phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World, which Mr Murdoch shut down amid a backlash.

NGN has since settled more than 1,300 claims, but the group has always rejected allegations of any wrongdoing by staff at The Sun. Ms Brooks, a former Sun editor, was found not guilty of hacking and other crimes following an eight-month trial in 2014.

Rupert Murdoch was previously a director of News International, now News UK, the parent company of News Group Newspapers (PA Archive)

David Sherborne, the lawyer for Harry and the other claimants, told the court that both Mr Murdoch and Ms Brooks had known NGN’s original statement that just “one rogue reporter” was involved in unlawful information-gathering was false.

They and other executives were “dishonest in making these statements since they knew them to be false at the time they were made”, the new allegations said.

Mr Hudson said the amended claims were based on “ancient documents” and in previous versions, Mr Murdoch was only referred to in passing with “no allegations against him”.

Mr Justice Fancourt has 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 Mr Murdoch.

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

The court was told further documents included 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.

Mr Hudson said the changes “appear to be designed to grab headlines, and not to progress the individual claims”, with NGN expected to argue at a hearing later this year that an initial trial should be held over whether the claims have been brought too late.

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

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