The Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry), Sir Elton John and Baroness Doreen Lawrence can continue their unlawful information gathering claims against the publisher of the Daily Mail, after it lost a bid to have the cases thrown out at the High Court.
The trio are among a group of high-profile individuals – including David Furnish, Sadie Frost, Liz Hurley and Sir Simon Hughes – who brought legal action against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
They have accused the publisher of allegedly carrying out or commissioning unlawful activities such as hiring private investigators to place listening devices inside cars, “blagging” private records and accessing and recording private phone conversations.
[Read more, from October 2022: Doreen Lawrence, Prince Harry and Elton John allege criminal privacy breaches by Mail group]
At a hearing in March Associated Newspapers, which firmly denies the allegations, asked a judge to rule in its favour without a trial, arguing the legal challenges against it were brought “far too late”.
In a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Nicklin said Associated had “not been able to deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to the claims of any of these claimants”.
He concluded in his 95-page-judgment that each of the seven people in the claim have a “real prospect” of demonstrating that Associated Newspapers concealed “relevant facts” that would have allowed them to bring a claim against the publisher earlier.
Accociated Newspapers wins bid to keep Leveson evidence secret
However, Associated Newspapers said the judgment was a win.
The publisher said: “We welcome Mr Justice Nicklin’s decision that the information we and other newspapers supplied to the Leveson Inquiry under strict grounds of confidentiality remains subject to the Restriction Order imposed by Lord Justice Leveson. In a significant victory for justice and the Mail, the Judge ruled that the information should not have been used by the claimants and must be struck out from the case.
“As Mr Justice Nicklin says in his judgment, this was an ‘abuse of process’ and if used, ‘it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute’.”
“As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone-hacking, landline-tapping, burglary and sticky-window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course.
“We are grateful to the judge for the careful consideration he has given to our applications.”
Prince Harry and other claimants ‘delighted’ case will go to trial
Claimants Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, Elizabeth Hurley, Prince Harry, Sadie Frost and Sir Simon Hughes issued the following statement:
“We are delighted with today’s decision which allows our claims over serious criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy by the Mail titles to proceed to trial.
“The High Court has dismissed ‘without difficulty’ the attempt by Associated Newspapers (publisher of The Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Mail Online) to throw these cases out. Indeed, the Judge found that each of our claims had a real prospect of showing there was concealment of unlawful acts by the Mail titles and that this could not have been discovered until recently. Our claims can now proceed to trial.
“As we have maintained since the outset, we bring our claims over the deplorable and illegal activities which took place over many years, including private investigators being hired to place secretly listening devices inside our cars and homes, the tapping of our phone calls, corrupt payments to police for inside information, and the illegal accessing of our medical information from hospitals and financial information from banks. We intend to uncover the truth at trial and hold those responsible at Associated Newspapers fully accountable.
“The judge also found ledgers showing secret payments by the Mail and the Mail on Sunday to private investigators which had been provided to our lawyers and could not be used at this stage without the consent of the newspapers or the Government. This only delays the inevitable since they will have to be produced in the course of the claim by Associated in any event. However, if the Mail and the Mail on Sunday have nothing to hide, and they genuinely believe our allegations are unfounded, as they appear to claim, they should provide us with the ledgers voluntarily now, and let the claims proceed to trial as quickly as possible.”
Judge says ruling of timing over claims dating back up to 30 years should be decided at trial
The judge said: “In my judgment, each claimant has a real prospect of demonstrating that Associated, or those for whom Associated is responsible, concealed from him/her the relevant facts upon which a worthwhile claim of unlawful information gathering could have been advanced.
“Whilst it is common ground that the publication of any unlawful articles was not concealed, these were, on the claimants’ case, only the tip of the iceberg.
“What was deliberately hidden from the claimants – if they are correct in their allegations – were the underlying unlawful acts that are alleged to have been used to obtain information for subsequent publication.”
Mr Justice Nicklin also said the group bringing the legal challenges had “a real prospect of demonstrating not only that the unlawful acts themselves were concealed, but also, in many instances, further devices were employed in the published articles to throw the subject ‘off the scent’”.
He continued: “Several claimants complain that they believed that their confidences were being betrayed by people close to them.
“Depending upon what the evidence shows, this may be a significant factor on the issue of both concealment and the point at which any claimant could have been expected to begin investigating whether, in fact, the true source of private information appearing in articles was unlawful information gathering, rather than treacherous friends.”
The judge also concluded that the “fair resolution” of any issue over the timing of the claims being brought “must await trial”.
Harry made a surprise appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice during the four-day preliminary hearing earlier this year, with Sir Elton and Lady Lawrence also appearing at the London court at times during proceedings.
Adrian Beltrami KC, for Associated, said the high-profile individuals could have used “reasonable diligence” to discover if they had a potential claim before October 2016.
The lawyer said the legal action against it had “no real prospects of succeeding” and was “barred” under a legal period of limitation.
However, lawyers for those bringing the claims said they were “thrown off the scent” and not aware of being targeted, having believed “categorical denials” from ANL over any involvement in unlawful activity.
David Sherborne, representing Harry and others, said ANL’s bid to have the claims ended was as “ambitious as it is unattractive” and that the group each had a “compelling case”.
Mr Sherborne later read out extracts from Lady Lawrence’s witness statement in which she said she felt “played for a fool” by the Daily Mail, believing the newspaper “really cared” about the injustice of the 1993 murder of her son Stephen Lawrence.
A further hearing in the cases is due to be held on November 21.
Prince Harry versus the press: Outstanding legal actions
In June the publisher of the Mirror faced a High Court trial over allegations from Prince Harry that numerous stories about him dating back up to 20 years were obtained illegally. Both sides are still awaiting the legal judgment to be handed down.
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