Prince Harry has been partially successful in a bid to take Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper group to trial.
He had accused the company of phone-hacking and other unlawful activities.
The Duke of Sussex took his battle with News Group Newspapers (NGN) to the High Court in London over the multiple alleged unlawful acts.
He claimed they were carried out on behalf of its tabloids, the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.
Part of the Duke of Sussex’s damages claim can go ahead to trial, a High Court judge has now decided.
Mr Justice Fancourt ruled today that Harry can not bring his claim against News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and now-defunct News Of The World, in relation to phone hacking.
However the judge said the rest of his claim, relating to other allegations of unlawful information gathering such as use of private investigators, could be tried.
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Mr Justice Fancourt refused to allow the duke to amend his case to rely on a ‘secret agreement’ between Buckingham Palace and senior NGN executives.
Harry, 38, brought his case against NGN, which he has accused of ruining his relationships with friends and ex-girlfriends and severely impacting his life as a teenager and young man.
In 2012, the newspaper group issued an unreserved apology for widespread hacking carried out by journalists at the News of the World.
Murdoch was forced to shut down the paper amid a backlash, but it rejects allegations of any wrongdoing by staff at the Sun.
In May, Fancourt ruled that Hugh Grant’s claims that the Sun had used private investigators to tap his phone and burgle his house could proceed to trial, but said his phone-hacking allegations had been made too late.
Harry’s lawyers said the prince had not made a claim sooner because there was a ‘secret agreement’ struck between Buckingham Palace and senior figures at NGN to avoid embarrassment.
News Group denies any such agreement, while the palace has not commented.
Court documents submitted by Harry’s legal team for the April hearings also said his elder brother Prince William, the heir to the throne, had settled a phone-hacking claim against NGN for a ‘huge sum’.
Mr Justice Fancourt said today the ‘lack of credibility’ included ‘the improbability of a secret agreement being made’ in the terms claimed; the ‘inconsistency’ in the duke’s case and ‘the absence of any other witness or documentary evidence to support it’.
His ruling comes after a hearing in April, where NGN asked the judge to throw out the duke’s case, arguing it was brought too late because he should have known sooner he had a potential claim.
In his written ruling, the judge 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.’
A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers [NGN] described today’s news as a ‘significant victory’ for the company.
They continued: ‘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.’
The NGN case is one of four that Harry, who now lives in California with his wife Meghan and their two children, is currently pursuing at the High Court against British publishers.
In June, he became the first senior British royal for more than 130 years to give evidence in court when he appeared as part of his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers.
Previously, he said he would feel ‘injustice’ if he lost.
After giving evidence in court, a bizarre trend began of news broadcasters using lookalikes to reenact Harry’s evidence.
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