By Brian Cathcart
PRINCE HARRY sealed a libel victory over the Mail on Sunday today with a court statement in London that was fiercely critical of the newspaper’s conduct.
The Prince, who is also Duke of Sussex, had sued over an article published last October alleging he had failed to carry out his duties as Captain General of the Royal Marines, ignoring correspondence and snubbing the service to the point where senior figures were discussing his replacement.
Today’s statement, whose terms were the result of lengthy negotiations, brought the case to an end without trial.
It declared: “My Lord, all of these allegations are false, as the Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline have now accepted, albeit after considerable damage was already done.”
It went on: “The baseless, false and defamatory stories . . . constituted not only a personal attack upon the Duke’s character but also wrongly brought into question his service to this country. Furthermore the publication of such allegations will unfairly tarnish and diminish the organisations with which The Duke is associated and thereby hinder the valuable work they do.”
The paper – which is also being sued separately by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, for breach of copyright and breach of privacy – is paying substantial damages to the Duke, which he is donating to the Invictus Games Foundation. The Mail on Sunday is also paying his legal costs in the case.
But the statement in open court did not stop there, because the Duke and his lawyers were clearly determined to place on record a number of criticisms of the paper’s behaviour in the case, notably:
The paper failed to contact the Prince’s staff prior to publication to seek comment on the allegations. If it had done so, the statement makes clear, the truth would have been established and the false report would not have been published.
Though the paper was immediately told the story was false it continued to publish it online without alteration for 33 days.
On 27 December the paper published apologies in print and online, but the Duke felt that the wording and placing of these was not commensurate to the damage caused by the libel. He only agreed “so as not to unnecessarily protract the litigation”.
The wording of the published apology “significantly underplayed the seriousness of the allegations” in the Duke’s view, and “did not expressly acknowledge that the allegations were false”, the statement said.
The apology also explicitly stated that the Mail on Sunday had made a donation to the Invictus Games Foundation, even though it had not done so. The Duke wanted to donate the damages himself.
The apology has already disappeared from the MailOnline app, by which many readers gain access to its reports.
The Mail on Sunday article, written by Defence Editor Mark Nicol, said that although the Duke held the figurehead post of Captain General of the Marines he had not been in contact ‘by phone, letter, nor email’ for a period of seven months. This incorrect allegation was attributed to unidentified ‘informed sources’.
Though the paper did not ask the Duke or his representatives whether this allegation was true, or to comment on it, it shared the allegation with Major General Julian Thompson, a retired Marine commander, and published a quotation from him condemning the Duke’s alleged conduct as negligent and wrong