Prince Harry’s privacy case should be thrown out by a judge, lawyers for the publisher of the Daily Mail have told the High Court, saying the claim has been brought “far too late” and is rejected “in its entirety”.
Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) says legal challenges brought by a number of high-profile individuals – including Sir Elton John, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, as well as the Duke of Sussex – have “no real prospects of succeeding” at a trial.
Following a dramatic second day which saw witness statements released at the end of the proceedings – in which Harry alleged that journalists at ANL “are criminals with journalistic powers which should concern every single one of us”, and said the Royal Family had withheld information from him about phone hacking – the third day in court was less revelatory.
ANL’s lawyers argued for a dismissal, or for a judgment made in its favour without a trial. However, David Sherborne, who represents the claimants, told the court the application is “heavily resisted”. Lawyers for Harry and the other celebrities say the attempt to get the case dismissed is “hopeless, plainly inappropriate and suggestive of a tactical gamble”.
Despite attending court for the first two days, the duke did not appear during proceedings on Wednesday. He alleges he was the victim of unlawful or illegal information gathering and says he is concerned by the “unchecked power, influence and criminality” of ANL.
It is claimed he and the other claimants have been victims of “abhorrent criminal activity” and “gross breaches of privacy”. The alleged unlawful acts, said to have taken place from 1993 to 2011, included hiring private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes, the recording of private phone conversations, accessing bank accounts through illicit means and paying police officials for inside information.
ANL denies the allegations.
The publisher has previously said that an alleged “confession” by private investigator Gavin Burrows had prompted the claims, and highlighted a statement in which he denies being commissioned by its newspapers to conduct unlawful information gathering.
This is a preliminary hearing, after which a judge will decide whether or not to take the case further.
Claims are ‘stale’, publisher’s lawyer tells court
Adrian Beltrami, representing ANL, reiterated the publisher’s rejection of the claims, as well as any “unfounded allegations that are repeatedly made that the defendant either misled the Leveson Inquiry or concealed evidence from the Leveson Inquiry”.
The various claims were “barred” under a legal period of limitation, he said, adding: “Whatever claims the claimants had or may have had have been brought far too late.”
In written arguments, Mr Beltrami said the privacy claims could have been brought before October 2016 and that “almost the entirety” of cases could with “reasonable diligence” have been discovered before that date.
Many of the claimants had brought legal action against other newspaper groups and hired lawyers involved in the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and phone hacking litigation, which took place in 2011 and 2012, as well as a “research team”, the barrister said.
“It is inconceivable that what is claimed to be the key new information leading to each claimant realising they had a claim arrived unbidden in the past couple of years,” Mr Beltrami said. “It must have been the product of a process, probably over a number of years.”
He concluded that “the court should not hesitate to dismiss these stale claims at an early stage, thereby avoiding what would otherwise be a considerable waste of time, costs and the court’s resources”.
Mr Sherborne said in written arguments that evidence so far over ANL’s alleged unlawful information gathering “appears compelling”, but that this should be decided at a trial.
The publisher says his allegations are “untrue, inflammatory and deeply offensive”, accusing the duke of being “obsessed” with its newspapers.
What have the other claimants said?
Baroness Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, believes his death in Eltham, southeast London, in 1993, was “exploited” by ANL, the court has heard.
She claims to have been the victim of the illegal interception of her voicemails, monitoring of her bank accounts and “corrupt payments to serving Metropolitan Police Service police officers, including on the Stephen Lawrence murder investigations, for confidential information”.
Sir Elton and his husband David Furnish claim the landline phone of their Windsor home was tapped by investigators on ANL’s behalf and that the birth certificate of their first child was unlawfully obtained by the publisher.
The hearing before Mr Justice Nicklin is due to conclude on Thursday, with a ruling expected at a later date.