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Prince Harry loses latest court bid to include Rupert Murdoch allegations in phone hacking claims

The Duke of Sussex's claim against NGN is currently set to go to trial in January 2025

Danielle Stacey
Online Royal CorrespondentLondon
May 21, 2024
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The Duke of Sussex cannot extend his legal action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) to include new allegations against Rupert Murdoch, a High Court judge has ruled.

Prince Harry and actor Hugh Grant are suing NGN, publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World, over alleged unlawful information-gathering.

On Tuesday, Mr Justice Fancourt ruled the new claims against "trophy targets" such as Mr Murdoch and other senior NGN executives could not be taken to a trial scheduled for January next year, stating they added "nothing material", but said some other amendments could be made.

He added: "I also consider that there is a desire on the part of those running the litigation on the claimants' side to shoot at 'trophy' targets, whether those are political issues or high-profile individuals. This cannot become an end in itself: it only matters to the court so far as it is material and proportionate to the resolution of the individual causes of action. The trial is not an inquiry."

Barristers representing various individuals suing the company claimed earlier this year that Mr Murdoch knew of unlawful activity as early as 2004 but "turned a blind eye" to the accusations while overseeing a "culture of impunity" at the publisher.

They asked the court to update parts of their case after the release of further information and to change parts of the Duke's claim to include allegations that NGN unlawfully gathered private information on the 39-year-old from the age of nine.

NGN denies the accusations, with its lawyers previously telling the court that the new claims were a "scurrilous and cynical attack".

Rupert Murdoch© Getty
Rupert Murdoch was executive chairman of News Corp and director of NGN’s parent company and News Corp’s subsidiary, News International, now News UK, at the time the paper closed

In relation to Harry's claim, Mr Justice Fancourt said that the Duke could only make some changes to his individual case, ruling that he could not introduce new allegations from 1994, 1995 and 2016 or new allegations of phone hacking.

But he granted permission for Harry "in principle" to change the details of his case to name "certain further journalists and private investigators", and bring allegations of "landline voicemail interception".

Harry’s claim is currently set to go to trial in January 2025.

Hugh Grant arriving at court in NGN privacy case in April 2023© Getty
Actor Hugh Grant has also brought legal action against NGN

A spokesperson for NGN said: "At a hearing in March 2024, the claimants sought to introduce wide-ranging allegations into their pleadings.

"NGN argued that a number of these were irrelevant to the fair and just determination of claims, and had nothing to do with seeking compensation for victims of phone hacking or unlawful information-gathering.

"The court in its judgment today has thoroughly vindicated NGN's position and did not give permission to introduce large and significant portions of the amendments."

Prince Harry's High Court cases

The Duke of Sussex is involved in five cases at the High Court.

1.  Unlawful information-gathering claim against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN)

Harry brought a case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), claiming journalists at its titles – the Daily and Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators for unlawful activities.

MGN largely contested the claims and denied that any newspaper articles complained of resulted from phone hacking, while contending that the vast majority did not arise from any other unlawful activity.

2. Unlawful information-gathering allegations against Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL)

Harry is one of seven high-profile people, including Sir Elton John and Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, bringing legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over allegations it carried out or commissioned unlawful information-gathering. At a preliminary hearing in March, the publisher asked a judge to rule in its favour without a trial, arguing the legal challenges against it were brought “far too late”.

Mr Justice Nicklin ruled in November that the publisher had failed to deliver a “knockout blow” to the early stage legal challenges, allowing them to continue.

Harry's lawyers are planning to ask ministers for permission to use confidential documents from the Leveson Inquiry into press standards after the judge ruled they could not be used while restrictions were in place.

3. Allegations of unlawful information-gathering at News Group Newspapers (NGN)

Harry and actor Hugh Grant are suing NGN, publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World, over alleged unlawful information-gathering.

The duke alleges he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for the papers.

Mr Justice Fancourt later ruled that Harry and the actor’s claims could go to trial, except for any allegations relating to phone hacking.

The judge also refused to allow the duke to rely on an alleged “secret agreement” between the royal family and senior executives working for media mogul Rupert Murdoch as part of his claim.

Harry’s claim is currently set to go to trial in January 2025.

4. Libel claim over Mail on Sunday article on Home Office legal battle

Harry is also suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over a February 2022 Mail on Sunday article about his legal fight with the Home Office.

5. Challenge against the Home Office over UK security arrangements

The Duke’s lawyers are challenging the February 2020 decision of the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec) to change the degree of his publicly funded security, arguing it was “unlawful and unfair”.

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