Prince Harry tried to block journalists from attending his wedding to Meghan Markle because his complaints over phone hacking had not been settled, the High Court has been told.
The Duke of Sussex is suing News Group Newspaper (NGN), the UK media business owned by Rupert Murdoch, over allegations his voicemails were intercepted for years in an illegal newsgathering operation.
At the High Court on Tuesday, Harry revealed that his brother, Prince William, had quietly settled a legal claim against NGN – the publishers of The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World – in 2020 for a large sum of money.
But Harry’s own claim, being brought alongside one by actor Hugh Grant, remains live and heading for a trial.
In a statement to the court on Tuesday morning, Harry revealed his private suggestions that tabloid journalists should be stopped from attending his 2018 wedding at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, complaining that he was still owed an “apology from Murdoch”.
“Given the level of abuse that she (Meghan) had suffered by that stage, by doing nothing other than being my partner, I was understandably upset and protective of my wife to be, especially when I heard that the main culprits of this abuse from these tabloid newspapers would be invited to our wedding”, said Harry.
“How could they be permitted to have a ring side seat and then sell millions of newspapers and clicks on the back of it, when all they have sought to do is destroy our relationship, destroy my wife with their endless lies while giving a platform to her abusers, when most of these ‘journalists’ knew the truth anyway because of the illegal methods they had used to dig into her past?
“I remember speaking to my brother and saying something along the lines of ‘enough of this, I want to get permission to push for a resolution to our phone hacking claims and a formal apology from Murdoch before any of his people are allowed anywhere near the wedding’ or words to that effect.
“I felt very angry about his newspapers’ appalling treatment of my wife and frustrated that nothing had been resolved on the phone hacking front during the previous 12 months, and I thought (naively perhaps) that this might prove the perfect opportunity to air our grievances and force a resolution to our phone hacking claims that had, up to that point, been denied to us.”
Harry says a “secret agreement” had been struck between the Royal Family and NGN in 2012, blocking him from pursuing a legal claim as Royal household complaints about phone hacking would wait until the end of all other litigation against the media organisation.
NGN has made a string of apologies in the High Court and agreed to damages payouts for a vast swathe of celebrities and people in the public, but has consistently denied any illegal activity on The Sun newspaper.
Harry said in his statement he was keen to “force an apology from Murdoch”, using access to the wedding as leverage, and said his brother was “very understanding and supportive”, suggesting he seek permission from the late Queen to file his own phone hacking legal claim against NGN in 2017.
He said his grandmother “gave the green light”, but then his efforts to bring forward a claim were thwarted by a lack of support from officials within the Royal household.
In February 2018, three months before his wedding, Harry asked an official for the “latest on the phone hacking”, adding: “They are running out of time.”
In a second message, he wrote: “The institution is supposed to be leading on this and is being made to look ineffective and weak. I can’t begin to tell you what it will say about the institution if this isn’t resolved before the baby arrival and wedding.
“If it isn’t resolved, should the Queen be allowing them to Windsor on May 19th?
“They have NO excuse for not getting this sorted. We all want to draw a line under this but judging by their behaviour thus far, they will pay whatever they can to keep this out of court when it comes to other victims. There needs to be an ultimatum otherwise this institution and everything it stands for becomes a laughing stock.”
After being told in March 2018 of “continued silence” from NGN bosses in New York, Harry wrote: “With HM fully supporting this I don’t think I need to remind anyone how important it is to resolve this before end of April.
“Putting her in the position of having to invite these people into Windsor Castle without resolution is not an option.”
Adding his desire for a plan to “protect the Queen and institution”, the Duke wrote: “We need to be prepared for not agreement before wedding and what that means…Thank you.”
Harry said he was “frustrated and disappointed” when there was no resolution, but said he won a small concession that Royal reporters and commentators from the UK media were not allowed into the chapel on the wedding day.
The Duke said when he finally did file legal claims against NGN and the Mirror Group Newspapers in 2019, I was “summoned to Buckingham Palace and specifically told to drop the legal actions because they have an ‘effect on all the family’”, adding that the demand came from his father’s Private Secretary.
In his statement, Prince Harry has again hit out at the British media, accusing newspapers of hounding him and girlfriends in their private life and publishing untrue stories to fit a “narrative”.
“In my experience as a member of the Royal Family, each of us gets cast into a specific role by the tabloid press”, he wrote.
“You start off as a blank canvas while they work out what kind of person they think you are and what kind of problems and temptations you might have. They then start to edge you towards playing the role or roles that suit them best and which sells as many newspapers as possible, especially if you are the ‘spare’ to the ‘heir’.
“You’re then either the ‘playboy prince’, the ‘failure’, the ‘drop out’ or, in my case, the ‘thicko’, the ‘cheat’, the ‘underage drinker’, the ‘irresponsible drug taker’, the list goes on.
“As a teenager and in my early twenties, I ended up feeling as though I was playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes that they wanted to place upon me. It was a downward spiral, whereby the tabloids would constantly try and coax me, a ‘damaged’ young man, into doing something stupid that would make a good story and sell lots of newspapers.
“Looking back on it now, such behaviour on their part is utterly vile.”
The case is in court this week as NGN seeks to end the legal claims brought by the Duke and Mr Grant, arguing they are out of time and should have sought damages years ago.
The hearing continues.