The settlement ends his case against Reach plc, but his ‘mission’ to make other papers accountable goes on, writes Brian Cathcart
PRINCE HARRY has accepted substantial additional damages from the Mirror group newspapers in final settlement of his claim relating to years of illegal intrusion into his affairs, supposedly carried out in the name of journalism.
This follows his court victory in December, when a judge found the Mirror group had published 15 sample articles founded on phone hacking or other unlawful means and awarded him £140,600 in damages. Today’s settlement relates to the remaining 115 articles he had complained of.
In a statement read outside the court, the prince said: ‘Everything we said was happening was in fact happening and indeed far worse, as the court ruled in its extremely damning judgment.’
Given all that had been proved in court, he said it was time for the police and the prosecuting authorities to uphold the rule of law – meaning that they should use the new evidence to launch fresh investigations into phone hacking and illegal news gathering by the UK press.
And he suggested that this should extend to former Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who, he said, ‘knew perfectly well what was going on, as the Judge held. Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth. His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment.’
The latest settlement closes one episode in what Prince Harry calls his ‘mission’ to make the UK press accountable for their lawbreaking, but there is much more to come. Notably, the mission includes ongoing legal cases against Rupert Murdoch’s Sun and News of the World newspapers and against the Mail papers owned by Lord Rothermere.
All are accused of hacking phones and using private investigators to steal personal information – claims the papers reject, though for years the Murdoch papers have been shutting down litigation with cash settlements. Prince Harry and his legal team have greatly increased the pressure on the companies while also raising the profile of the litigation.
With the Murdoch group he has won permission to sue for unlawful information gathering, though not for hacking, and a trial was set for this year, but whether it will go that far is by no means certain. Rather than have to justify its record in court, with high-profile witnesses such as CEO Rebekah Brooks and possibly James Murdoch facing hostile questioning, the company may try again to close things down with a large cash offer. If that happens, the financial risks involved in proceeding could be so great for the prince that he has to accept.
With the Rothermere/Mail papers, the case brought by the prince, Elton John, Doreen Lawrence and others is the first of its kind and they have already successfully fought off efforts to have the cases thrown out for coming too late. The company, which two years ago lost a high-profile privacy case brought by the prince’s wife, Meghan, insists it will fight the new claims all the way to trial.
Even for the Mirror papers the saga is not over. On the one hand there are still dozens more claimants seeking damages following the court rulings in the Harry case. On the other there are the consequences of the litigation for the company’s reputation.
Renamed Reach, the group insists it is a different operation from the one that so freely broke the law in 1995-2011 and covered it up in the years that followed, but one of its most senior current journalists, Gary Jones, was among those identified in the December judgment as involved in hacking and other unlawful activities. Jones is editor in chief of the group’s Express titles.
How long Jones survives in that role, and whether the group’s shareholders are content with the board’s conduct, remain to be seen.
Beyond that, there is the matter of possible criminal proceedings. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have shown no interest to date in reopening investigations, despite the emergence of mountains of new evidence in court, and long series of findings by judges that named individuals were involved in lawbreaking.
In 2010 the situation was similar, with a torrent of revelations and the police refusing to budge, and on that occasion their hand was forced by legal actions. That could happen again.
Here is Prince Harry’s Statement in full:
The Duke of Sussex v MGN Limited
Press Statement – 9 February 2024
‘After our victory in December, Mirror Group have finally conceded the rest of my claim, which would have consisted of another two trials, additional evidence and 115 more articles.
Everything we said was happening at Mirror Group was in fact happening, and indeed far worse as the Court ruled in its extremely damning judgement.
In light of all this, we call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it.
That includes Mr Morgan, who as editor, knew perfectly well what was going on, as the Judge held. Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth. His contempt for the Court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed Judgment.
As I said back in December, our mission continues. I believe in the positive change it will bring for all of us. It is the very reason why I started this, and why I will continue to see it through to the end.’
David Sherborne & Julian Santos – 5RB
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