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Prince Harry’s legal battle against The Sun publisher going to trial

Duke of Sussex says he was targeted by journalists and private investigators from the 1990s until 2016 but was told he could not bring claim against alleged phone hacking

Holly Evans
Thursday 27 July 2023 21:28 BST
UK Judge Rules Prince Harry Lawsuit Against Tabloid Can Go to Trial

Prince Harry’s legal battle against The Sun’s publisher will continue to a High Court trial, a judge has ruled.

The Duke of Sussex, 38, alleges he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for News Group Newspapers (NGN) titles and the now-defunct News of the World from the mid-1990s until 2016.

Mr Justice Fancourt ruled on Thursday that Harry cannot bring his claim in relation to phone hacking, but the rest of his claim could be tried. This relates to other allegations of unlawful information gathering such as the use of private investigators.

The trial will hear claims that the tabloids had used investigators and blagging techniques to glean information on him and his friends, including details of his relationship with former girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

However, the trial, which is fixed for next January, will not hear phone hacking claims after the judge ruled that the Duke was aware enough of the scandal to bring his case sooner.

Rupert Murdoch’s media company had previously settled a number of claims since the phone-hacking scandal broke in 2011 in relation to News of the World, but has consistently denied unlawful activity at The Sun.

In his written ruling, the judge said: “I am satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect of the duke proving at trial that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have discovered facts that would show that he had a worthwhile claim for voicemail interception in relation to each of the News of the World and The Sun.”

“He already knew that in relation to the News Of The World, and he could easily have found out by making basic inquiries that he was likely to have a similar claim in relation to articles published by The Sun.”

He also refused to allow the duke to amend his case to rely on a “secret agreement” between Buckingham Palace and senior NGN executives.

Lawyers for the duke had said there was evidence to support the agreement, including emails between executives and palace staff in 2017 and 2018.

The Duke of Sussex’s case relating to unlawful information gathering can be taken to trial (AP)

Mr Justice Fancourt said in his ruling that the duke had not “provided any evidence from those in the palace who would have been aware of a secret agreement if there was one”.

NGN disputed such an agreement and denied any unlawful activity took place at The Sun. During a hearing in April, NGN asked Mr Justice Fancourt to throw out the duke’s case, arguing it was brought too late.

Anthony Hudson KC had argued there was an “extraordinary delay” between Harry launching his claim in 2019 and first raising the issue of the “secret agreement”.

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 claim forms part of six legal battles Harry has begun at the High Court (Getty)

“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.”

Mr Justice Fancourt ruled in May that a claim by actor Hugh Grant over alleged unlawful information gathering – other than allegations of phone hacking – can 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.

The claim forms part of six legal battles for the former working royal which are ongoing at the High Court.

His civil litigation has seen him bring claims against three major newspaper publishers over allegations of unlawful information gathering, as well as legal challenges against the Home Office in relation to his personal security.

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