After Meghan’s victory, Harry has phone hackers in his sights
Analysis: the prince may be prepared to risk a costly lawsuit against the Sun and Mirror, rather than settling
The legal battle against the Mail on Sunday may finally be over.
But for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, another one looms, and this could make it all the way to trial.
On this occasion, phone hacking is the heart of a case the prince has brought against the Sun, the News of the World and the Daily Mirror – newspapers, he claims, illegally intercepted his voice messages.
It is expected to come to court next year, the Guardian understands, in another case that would pit one half of the Sussexes against powerful players in the tabloid press.
Prince Harry is claiming damages of more than £200,000 in the legal action, first lodged in 2019. In court papers he has said it affected his relationships with friends and family and that he ultimately experienced a breakdown in trust. Articles highlighted include ones relating to his relationship with Chelsy Davy, which ended in 2010.
For more than a decade, phone-hacking victims have invariably been accepting generous settlements from the tabloids that hacked them before the cases reached court but it is possible – particularly given Meghan’s comments on Thursday – that Harry could be the one to break the mould.
The Guardian understands that there is no sign of a settlement at present. There is no love lost between the parties, and for one, News Group Newspapers has alleged it is too late to bring the claim. In a court filing, obtained by Newsweek, the Rupert Murdoch-owned company admitted that Harry’s phone was hacked by the News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
Among the articles it has conceded were based on hacking are an April 2006 report that “Prince Harry has been given a furious Chelsy Davy dressing down over his late-night antics in a lapdancing bar” and an August 2005 article about a disagreement between Harry and Prince Andrew over a shooting weekend at Balmoral.
But the filing said: “These were first published over six years prior to the issue of these proceedings and this claim is therefore statute-barred and it is denied that [Prince Harry] is entitled to any relief in relation to it.” News Group has challenged other aspects of the prince’s claims including that the Sun hacked his phone.
The other obstacle to settlement could be Harry digging in heels in with a determination to instead obtain judgment against the two newspaper groups in court.
With other victims of phone hacking – Harry is believed to be the last big name with an outstanding claim – the pattern has been consistent with a settlement eventually being made and accepted.
However, given Meghan’s desire to change a model that she said “rewards chaos above truth”, there remains the possibility that even if News Group Newspapers and Reach plc admit his claim is merited – and there is no sign of that – Harry will be determined to have his day in court.
That would amount to a powerful statement of intent, given that it would risk leaving him heavily out of pocket, as the cost of a symbolic victory.
In civil claims when a settlement offer is refused and the case goes to court, if the judge awards an amount less than or equal to the offered amount they will generally force the claimant to pay the legal costs of the other side since the settlement figure was lodged with the court.
In other words, by refusing a settlement, Harry would risk having to pay out legal fees for the sake of – hopefully – having a judge rule in his favour against his adversaries.
For most people that would be unthinkable but the couple’s wealth and the unprecedented – for royals – manner in which they have taken on the tabloid press head-on, means it is a possibility.
And it is possible that, having one legal battle, they could be tempted into more where they feel they have been wronged by the press.
Speaking after Thursday’s court victory against the Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter she sent to her father, Meghan made clear the Sussexes weren’t done yet.
“What matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create,” she said.
Reach plc declined to comment.
News Group and the Sussexes were also approached for comment.