Sunak government springs a surprise by turning a ‘setback for Prince Harry’ into a setback for the Daily Mail

By Brian Cathcart

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex looks to the audience during his speech for the “One Year to Go” Invictus Games dinner in Vancouver on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024 Credit: The Canadian Press/Alamy Live News

IT WAS, the Daily Mail informed us last November, ‘a significant victory for justice and the Mail’ and ‘a major setback for Prince Harry’, but now, with a few strokes of the pen, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government has turned that upside down.

The government decision releases a wealth of documents relating to the use of private investigators for Prince Harry, Elton John, Baroness Lawrence and others to deploy in their unprecedented legal case alleging hacking and unlawful information gathering by the Mail newspapers.

The Mail group, which desperately wanted these documents withheld, insisted that they were covered by confidentiality arrangements dating back to the 2011-12 Leveson Inquiry into the press, and in November a judge upheld that argument.

But the government had a right to waive that confidentiality and yesterday, acting on a request from the prince and the other complainants in the case, it did just that, turning that ‘significant victory for the Mail’ into what might be called a victory for the prince.

The news slipped out in a joint statement from Home Secretary James Cleverly and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer that they ‘do not consider that it is necessary in the public interest to withhold these documents’.

A separate official notice described the documents as ‘ledger cards’ from the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday ‘recording payments to private investigators’. It is not difficult to see why they might be relevant to the case against the Mail group – which denies all the claims against it.

The development is noteworthy for two main reasons. The first is that it could accelerate the progress of a case that is nothing less than historic. While Rupert Murdoch’s UK papers and the Mirror newspapers owned by Reach plc have paid out billions to claimants in phone hacking litigation over the past dozen years, this is the first time the very powerful Mail group has been sued, and the complainants could hardly be more high-profile.

The reality of the November ruling was that the decision in relation to the Leveson documents was never that important. The documents were, but it was inevitable that they would eventually have to be disclosed in the course of the legal process; this government decision simply makes it quicker.

If that is so, you might ask, why did the Mail claim such a big victory in November? That was just another act of deception perpetrated on its readers.

The Mail knew exactly what the legal position was, but it also knew that it had been roundly defeated in every other aspect of its first attempt to have the case halted by the courts. The one thing that had gone its way was the ruling on the documents, so knowing full well it would make little difference, it elevated that to a ‘significant victory for justice and the Mail’.

2H2J4NA RISHI SUNAK, 2021

The second noteworthy point about the government’s decision is that it is surprising. The Sunak government is normally extremely friendly with, if not subservient to, the Mail organisation, and it could easily have done nothing. Instead it chose a course it knows must infuriate the company’s editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre, and its proprietor, Lord Rothermere. We may never know why.. For the Mail group the stakes could not be higher. Defeat in this case would not only be a terrible humiliation for the UK’s most self-righteous and pompous newspaper company, it could also almost certainly expose that company to years of costly and damaging court action.


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