Britain’s Prince Harry returned to the High Court in London on Thursday where his lawyer was fighting an attempt by a newspaper publisher to throw out his and other high-profile figures’ lawsuit which alleged widespread unlawful acts by journalists.
Harry, the singer Elton John and five other high-profile people are suing publisher Associated Newspapers, alleging they were the victims of phone-hacking and other serious privacy breaches by journalists from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday or private investigators working on their behalf.
Associated is seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out before a trial, arguing that the claims, some dating back 30 years, were outside a six-year time limit for legal action. The publisher’s lawyer Adrian Beltrami told the court on Wednesday the claims were rejected “in their entirety”.
Explaining why they have not sued before, David Sherborne, the lawyer for Harry and the other claimants, said they had been put “off the scent” by unequivocal denials made at a 2011 public inquiry by top executives from Associated.
“Those categorical denials were believed by a number of individuals who bring claims,” he told the court on the fourth and final day of the preliminary hearing, adding only recent discoveries had turned their suspicions into grounds for action.
Phone-hacking first came to public knowledge in 2006 when the royal correspondent and a private investigator working for a Sunday tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers were arrested and later convicted of accessing voicemails on the mobile phones of royal aides.
Subsequent revelations five years later forced Murdoch to shut the paper, led to its editor and others being jailed, a public inquiry into press standards, and millions of pounds being paid in damages by NGN and another newspaper group.
Associated has always denied it was involved in such illegal practices.
In court filings, Harry and the others have detailed a series of unlawful activities by Mail journalists or 19 private investigators working for them from 1993 to 2011 and beyond, ranging from tapping their phones and bugging their homes to obtaining medical records by deception.
The British royal, who flew over from his Californian home and has been in court for three days this week, in his statement described Associated’s journalists as criminals, a term the publisher said was “inflammatory and deeply offensive”.
The judge, Matthew Nicklin, is not expected to rule for some weeks on whether the case should proceed to trial.
During an exchange with Sherborne, he suggested that if it did, it would be a “massive trial” which would last a “substantial period of time”.