- The Duke of Sussex is suing The Sun, News of the World, AND Daily Mirror for alleged hacking
- The Daily Mirror claim covers the period when PIERS MORGAN was Editor
- Murdoch’s teflon CEO Rebekah Brooks was Editor of The Sun when Harry was allegedly targeted by private investigators
PRINCE Harry is suing the UK tabloid papers of both Rupert Murdoch and their industry rivals Mirror Group Newspapers for allegedly hacking his phone, Byline Investigates can exclusively reveal.
In a major escalation of his war on Fleet Street, the 35-year-old Duke of Sussex filed documents at the High Court in London last Friday, September 27, via his lawyers Clintons LLP alleging both news groups misused his private information for stories.
It raises for the first time the possibility of a senior member of the Royal family entering the witness box in trials against some of the most powerful media organisations in the world.
A legal source told Byline Investigates: “An appearance by the Prince in the witness box would immediately make this an historic moment in British law.
“There are strong matters of principle at stake here for the Prince. A lot of work has gone into preparing these cases to the point they can be formally filed.
“His legal team plainly feels there are cases to be answered here.”
The move comes as the Mail on Sunday prepares to defend itself against a separate legal action launched this week by the Prince and his wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex, 38, via a different law firm, Schillings, alleging the misuse of a private family letter.
In addition to Murdoch’s The Sun and defunct News of the World, the Duke is also suing the publishers of The Mirror titles over unlawful newsgathering activities that stretch back to the editorship of controversial former editor-turned-celebrity Piers Morgan.
Although no formal ‘Particulars of Claim’ are yet publicly available, setting out the broad details of the Prince’s complaints, similar claims to have progressed through the courts have focused on hacking and the “blagging” of personal private medical and communications information.
Byline Investigates understands the Prince’s claim is unlikely to proceed to trial until early 2021 at the soonest, and will focus in part on the activities of private detectives commissioned by The Sun, the News of the World and the Mirror titles.
Hitherto, The Sun’s owners have always denied any wrongdoing on behalf of the paper in relation to unlawful newsgathering.
Media commentator, Professor Brian Cathcart, said the Duke’s legal move will worry newspaper chiefs – with Murdoch’s News UK in particular making a strategy of settling individual hacking claims out of court in order to prevent a ‘generic concealment and destruction’ case that makes serious allegations about a top-level cover up of industrial scale wrongdoing from being publicly aired.
Prof Cathcart said: “An interesting question raised by Harry’s latest action – and one which is bound to worry newspaper bosses – is how far he might be prepared to go.
“The Murdoch and Mirror papers have a record of settling phone hacking cases at the door of the court. It costs them a lot of money, but it also prevents a public trial at which executives and reporters past and present would be required to account for themselves and at which all the facts would come into the open.
“It also suits many complainants to settle because, angry though they may be, they are reluctant to risk the costs of a trial.
“That logic may not apply to Prince Harry. It’s too early to say, but depending on how much he wants to make the press bosses suffer, he might yet precipitate a sensational civil trial.”
The claim against News UK is likely to make broader allegations than those previously placed on record after the targeting of Prince Harry and his brother Prince William by the News of The World’ and its former Royal Editor, Clive Goodman and in-house private detective Glenn Mulcaire.
The pair were convicted in 2007 for hacking the phone of members of the Royal household.
The cases sparked the phone hacking scandal which has cost Rupert Murdoch an estimated £1bn.
The Mirror has separately set aside £80m to deal with hundreds of hacking claims that have already been dogging the company for some five years.
More recent hacking claims have levelled serious allegations against The Sun under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks in 2003-2009.
As serving CEO of News UK, Ms Brooks will be directing the legal team at the company on how to deal with Prince Harry’s claim.
The Mirror case will come as a blow to Reach plc, which owns the Mirror titles and the Express, as it has been keen to tell the stock market that the hacking litigation lies in the past.
A legal insider told Byline Investigates: “Piers Morgan has been critical of Harry and Meghan’s recourse to law this week against the Mail on Sunday.
“However, most of the Mirror hacking and blagging of Harry and his loved ones, allegedly happened under his watch.’
Morgan was editor of the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004, and Editor-in-Chief of the People and Sunday Mirror which are heavily implicated in the industrial scale hacking and blagging that took place in those years.
The insider added: “Morgan might be concerned about this claim as there are also allegations of hacking by his newspaper of Princess Diana before she died, as well as her friends and family after her death, while Morgan’s papers were mourning her loss.”
Buckingham Palace, on behalf of the Prince, has confirmed the legal actions are underway, as have MGN and NGN, which are declining to comment further.
The Duke will be represented by leading privacy barrister David Sherborne, who secured the landmark decision in the 2015 case known as Frost, Gulati and others vs. Mirror Group, the main phone hacking trial judgment so far.
Mr Sherborne has represented hundreds of victims of phone hacking in civil cases at the High Court, going back to 2014.
The press reform group Hacked Off welcomed Prince Harry’s decision but criticised the government for cancelling the second part of the Leveson Inquiry
Hacked Off Policy Manager, Nathan Sparkes, said: “Today’s news that Prince Harry has initiated proceedings against publishers for The Sun and the Daily Mirror for alleged phone hacking shows how much more of the phone hacking scandal may yet reach the public domain.
“Instead of getting to the bottom of phone hacking and press illegality by completing the Leveson Inquiry, the Government instead chose to turn its back on the victims of press abuse and the general public by suppressing the second half of that inquiry fewer than 18 months ago after extensive lobbying from newspaper editors and executives.
“The Government should abandon attempts to curry favour with newspaper publishers and stand up for the thousands of people across the country who have been the victims of illegal or otherwise abusive press behaviour, by establishing Part Two of the Leveson Inquiry and implementing the recommendations of Part One without further delay.”
The news of the Duke’s legal case against News Group Newspapers and Mirror Group Newspapers comes just three days after his wife the Duchess of Sussex launched a legal case against the Mail on Sunday, which is published by Associated News.
The Duchess claims the Mail on Sunday breached her privacy and copyright by publishing a private letter that she sent to her American father.
It means all three of Britain’s major newspaper publishers have now been dragged into the royal privacy row.
This week, newspapers from all three groups have criticised the royal couple for suing the Mail on Sunday.
The criticism was lead by Piers Morgan, who edited the Daily Mirror while phone hacking and the use of illegal private investigators was a daily occurrence.
If Prince Harry’s claim goes all the way to trial, Morgan would be expected to give evidence in defence of his actions while editor.
Despite admissions by Mirror Group that the Daily Mirror was hacking on an industrial scale under his editorship, Piers Morgan has repeatedly denied that he knew about that his reporters were phone hacking, even though he was very close to his reporters, two of his deputies have been found in the High Court to be phone hackers and that he scrutinised how stories were stood-up.
Morgan denied phone hacking at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.
And this week he attacked Prince Harry in his column and on Twitter. On Wednesday, Morgan’s column in the Mail on Sunday’s digital sister site MailOnline was headlined: “Stop playing the victim, Harry – you and Meghan brought the negative press on yourselves, and just when you turn things around, you ruin it all.”
It is not clear whether Piers Morgan will be called upon to give evidence should the Duke’s legal action against MGN proceed to trial.
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