Prince Harry and Elton John can take case against Daily Mail publisher to trial
By Michael Holden and Sam Tobin
LONDON (Reuters) -Prince Harry, singer Elton John and five other high-profile British figures can have their lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily Mail newspaper alleging widespread unlawful behaviour heard at trial, the High Court in London ruled on Friday.
Publisher Associated Newspapers (ANL) had sought at hearings in March to have the case thrown out, saying the claims that were brought in October 2022 were outside a six-year time limit for legal action.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, along with Elton John, and the other five claimants accuse ANL, which publishes the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, of phone-hacking and other serious privacy breaches dating back 30 years. ANL has always denied involvement in unlawful practices.
“I consider that each claimant has a real prospect of demonstrating concealment by Associated that was not – and could not with reasonable diligence have been – discovered by the relevant claimant before October 2016,” Judge Matthew Nicklin said in his ruling.
However, Nicklin ruled the seven claimants could not rely on ledgers recording payments by ANL to private investigators, which were disclosed to a public inquiry into press standards that began in 2011, without first getting the permission of British government ministers.
A subsequent hearing will be held on Nov. 21 to consider the outcome of the ruling.
“We intend to uncover the truth at trial and hold those responsible at Associated Newspapers fully accountable,” law firm Hamlins said in a statement on behalf of Harry, John, the singer’s husband David Furnish, actors Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, campaigner Doreen Lawrence, and former lawmaker Simon Hughes.
During the preliminary hearings, some of which Harry and John attended, the claimants’ lawyer David Sherborne said his clients had been put “off the scent” by unequivocal denials made at the 2011 public inquiry by top executives from Associated.
In their submissions, the prince and the others detailed a series of alleged 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.
“As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone-hacking, landline-tapping, burglary and sticky-window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course,” Associated said in a statement.
Phone-hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when the royal correspondent and a private investigator working for the News of the World Sunday tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) 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 Mirror Group Newspapers, which Harry is also currently suing.
A different judge ruled in July that Harry could proceed with his lawsuit against NGN over his claims of “blagging” confidential details about him and using other unlawful invasions of privacy. But, the judge in that case said, allegations about phone-hacking were made too late.
That trial is likely to take place in early 2025.
In June, Harry became the first senior British royal for more than 130 years to give evidence in court in the lawsuit against Mirror Group and a verdict in that case could also be delivered soon.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Sam Tobin; Editing by Kate Holton and Alex Richardson)