Prince Harry’s trial against Murdoch tabloids to go ahead, but hacking claims too old


FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex arrives at the Rolls Building of the High Court in London, Britain June 7, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -Prince Harry can take some of his lawsuit against media magnate Rupert Murdoch's tabloids to trial, London's High Court ruled on Thursday, but claims of decades-old phone hacking were thrown out for being filed too late.

The court also rejected one of Harry's central arguments, that there had been a "secret deal" struck between Buckingham Palace and Murdoch's newspaper group to keep quiet the illegal hacking into voicemails of royals' mobile phones.

Harry, the younger son of King Charles and the late Princess Diana, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) over alleged invasions of privacy by its tabloids, the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.

It is one of four cases that the 38-year-old prince, who now lives in California with his wife Meghan and their two children, is pursuing at the High Court against British publishers. He casts the legal actions as a mission to hold tabloid executives to account for lying and covering up widescale wrongdoing.

Harry blames intrusive media for wrecking some of his personal relationships and causing the 1997 death of his mother Princess Diana. Her chauffeur-driven car crashed as it sped away from chasing photographers in Paris.

In 2012, NGN apologised for widespread hacking by journalists at the News of the World, which the Australian-born media magnate Murdoch had been forced to shut down amid a backlash. But the group has always rejected allegations of any wrongdoing by staff at the Sun.

It had argued that Harry's claims fell outside the six-year time limit for legal action.

Harry's lawyers said the prince had not made a claim sooner because there was a clandestine agreement between Buckingham Palace and senior figures at NGN to avoid embarrassment.

His legal team have also said his elder brother Prince William, the heir to the throne, had settled a phone hacking claim against NGN for a "huge sum".

INVASION OF PRIVACY

In Thursday's ruling, Judge Timothy Fancourt said he could not conclude there was a "sufficiently plausible evidential basis" for Harry to allege a secret deal.

But he said the rest of Harry's claims of "blagging" - or obtaining by deception - confidential details about him and using other unlawful invasions of privacy could proceed to a trial due to begin in January next year.

"The remaining claims must be tried," Fancourt said.

"I do not find this is a case where it's possible to say one party is clearly the successful party."

However, NGN hailed the ruling as a "significant victory", and said it drew a line under hacking accusations dogging the publisher since 2005.

The Palace has declined to comment.

Harry's legal team will have to submit new details of claims against NGN, exclude phone hacking, ahead of next year's trial.

In earlier court documents, his lawyers suggested "blagging" took place as recently as when he began dating Meghan. They alleged the Sun instructed a private investigator to obtain information including her social security number.

Since stepping down from royal duties in 2020, Harry has turned his focus onto battling the British press which he says has intruded into his private life since he was a child, spreading lies about him and those close to him.

He has also lashed out at his own family, including the king and his second wife Camilla who he says conspired through royal aides into planting stories about him in papers to enhance their reputations or distract from wrongdoing they might have committed.

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 another lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers.

Harry has divided British opinion: some disapprove of his distancing from the royal family and view him as attention-seeking, while others applaud him as a progressive tackling an immoral media and old-fashioned establishment attitudes.

(Reporting by Michael Holden;Editing by Bill Berkrot and Andrew Cawthorne)

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