Harry granted major win as judge allows him to take major publisher to court

Part of Prince Harry’s legal challenge over allegations of unlawful information gathering against a tabloid publisher will be allowed to go to a High Court trial.

But Justice Timothy Fancourt ruled on Thursday that the Duke of Sussex cannot bring his claim against News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and now-defunct News Of The World, in relation to phone hacking.

The judge also refused to allow Harry to amend his case to rely on a “secret agreement” between Buckingham Palace and senior NGN executives.

Harry, 38, alleges he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for NGN and has launched a claim for damages.

At a hearing in April, NGN asked Mr Justice Fancourt to throw out the duke’s case, arguing it was brought too late because he should have known sooner he had a potential claim.

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The judge ruled in favor of the argument by the newspapers that Harry was well enough aware of the phone hacking scandal to bring his case sooner. However, he said he would allow him to proceed on claims about other unlawful intrusions, such as the use of private investigators hired to snoop on him.

In his written ruling, Justice Fancourt concluded: “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.”

Harry’s lawyers previously argued that NGN’s challenge to his claim was an attempt to go behind the alleged “secret agreement”, between the Royal Family as an institution and the publisher, which the duke was told of in 2012.

But NGN, which denies any unlawful activity took place at The Sun, disputes such an agreement was in place.

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 Rupert Murdoch-owned parent companies of NGN and palace staff in 2017 and 2018.

Harry said the rationale for the secret agreement was to avoid putting members of the Royal Family on the witness stand to recount embarrassing voicemails intercepted by reporters.

David Sherborne, for Harry, said in written arguments the fact Prince William 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”.

But Anthony Hudson KC, for NGN, told the court the bid to alter the duke’s claim is a “radical intended revision” of his case and he is “trying to ride two horses galloping in completely different directions” and “hedge his bets”.

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Mr Hudson said the alleged agreement was “such a secret agreement that no-one apart from the claimant knows anything about it, and even the claimant knows very little about it”.

Today’s ruling is similar to one Justice Fancourt made in May in a companion case brought by actor Hugh Grant, that also dismissed phone hacking charges.

The judge said the claim brought by the actor over alleged unlawful information gathering – other than allegations of phone hacking – can go ahead to be tried next January.

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

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