Prince Harry takes on Murdoch’s UK group over phone-hacking, brother ‘settled’
LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) - Britain's Prince William has settled a phone-hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper arm for a "very large sum" after a secret deal struck with Buckingham Palace, lawyers for the heir's brother Prince Harry said in court documents.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, is suing Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court in London for multiple unlawful acts allegedly committed on behalf of its tabloids, the Sun and now defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.
During three days of preliminary hearings this week, NGN, which has paid out millions of pounds to settle more than a thousand phone-hacking cases, is seeking to strike out claims by the prince and British actor Hugh Grant, arguing they should have taken action sooner.
It also denies anyone from the Sun was involved in any unlawful activity.
In a submission to the court, Harry’s legal team said the reason he had not brought action before was because a deal had been agreed between NGN and the “institution” – Buckingham Palace – to hold off any claims until the conclusion of other outstanding phone-hacking litigation.
“In responding to this bid by NGN to prevent his claims going to trial, the claimant has had to make public the details of this secret agreement, as well as the fact that his brother, His Royal Highness, Prince William, has recently settled his claim against NGN behind the scenes,” his lawyers said.
They added NGN had settled with William “for a very large sum of money in 2020”. William’s office said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
During a criminal trial brought against News of the World journalists and others in 2014, its former royal editor Clive Goodman said in the mid-2000s he had hacked the voicemails of Harry as well as those of William, and William’s wife Kate.
Her phone was hacked 155 times, William’s 35 and Harry’s nine times, Goodman said.
In his witness statement, quoted by his lawyers, the prince said the secret deal was struck to “avoid the situation where a member of the royal family would have to sit in the witness box and recount the specific details of the private and highly sensitive voicemails that had been intercepted”.
Harry said Buckingham Palace “wanted to avoid at all costs” the reputational damage caused by publication in the 1990s of details of an “intimate telephone conversation” between Charles and the now Queen Consort Camilla, when his father was still married to his mother Princess Diana.
The document also said Harry’s grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth, had been involved in discussions and in 2017 had given her permission for him to pursue his case.
In his submission, NGN’s lawyer Anthony Hudson denied there was any “secret agreement” between the publisher and the royal family. He argued that, even if there was a deal, it did not affect their case that the lawsuit was brought too late.
Harry, who now lives in California, was not in court, but would be watching proceedings by videolink, his lawyer David Sherborne said.
In 2012, Murdoch’s British newspaper group issued an unreserved apology for widespread hacking carried out by journalists at the News of the World which the media mogul had shut down amid a backlash.
But it has always rejected any unlawful activity at the Sun which was previously edited by Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of his British arm, News UK. She has always denied knowledge of phone-hacking and was found not guilty in the 2014 trial of involvement.
Last week, Murdoch’s Fox Corp. settled a U.S. defamation lawsuit for $787.5 million, but reports suggest that figure is dwarfed by the British phone-hacking scandal.
In 2021, the media industry magazine, the Press Gazette, estimated that phone-hacking had cost NGN more than 1 billion pounds ($1.24 billion), and in its accounts last year the group stated that it might need to spend a further 100 million pounds.
The case is one of four Harry is pursuing against British newspapers.
By Michael Holden and Sam Tobin
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Alexandra Hudson)