The Duke of Sussex is waiting for a High Court judge to rule on a number of preliminary issues after making a libel claim against the Mail publisher over articles about his legal battle against the Home Office.
Harry is suing Associated Newspapers Limited, publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, over stories written after a hearing in a separate High Court case over his security arrangements when he is in the UK.
Associated Newspapers is disputing the claim and Mr Justice Nicklin considered a number of preliminary issues at the High Court in London on Thursday.
The judge was asked to consider the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the parts of the articles in the claim, whether they are a statement of “fact or opinion” and whether they are defamatory.
Barrister Justin Rushbrooke QC, who is leading Harry’s legal team, told the judge in a written case outline that Harry brought the claim following a website article and an article in the Mail on Sunday in February.
He argued both articles were “defamatory” and meant that Harry had “lied”, had “improperly and cynically” tried to manipulate public opinion, and had “tried to keep his legal fight with the Government secret from the public”.
Rushbrooke said Associated Newspapers disputed that the words complained of bore “any meaning defamatory” of Harry.
In his written claim filed with the court, Harry said the reporting allegedly caused him “substantial hurt, embarrassment and distress which is continuing”.
Harry is bringing his separate claim against the Home Office after being told he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security when visiting from the US, despite offering to pay for it himself.
He is arguing that his private protection team in the US does not have adequate jurisdiction abroad or access to the UK intelligence information needed to keep his family safe.
However, Robert Palmer QC, for the Home Office, previously told the court the duke’s offer of private funding was “irrelevant” and that “personal protective security by the police is not available on a privately-financed basis”.
In the libel hearing, Mr Justice Nicklin was told the website article was headlined: “Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the Government over police bodyguards a secret … then – just minutes after the story broke – his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.”
Rushbrooke said the articles claimed the duke “lied in his initial public statements to the effect that he had always been willing to pay for police protection in the UK, when the true position, as revealed by High Court documents, was that he had only made such an offer recently, after his dispute had started and after his visit to the UK in June 2021”.
He said the pieces suggested he “improperly and cynically tried to manipulate and confuse public opinion by authorising his ‘spin doctors’ to put out false and misleading statements about his willingness to pay for police protection immediately after the Mail on Sunday had revealed he was suing the Government”.
And he said they claimed the duke “tried to keep his legal fight with the Government secret from the public, including the fact that he expected British taxpayers to pay for his police protection, in a way which was improper and showed a lack of transparency on his part”.
He said: “Allegations that a person has lied to the public, manipulated the public and attempted to keep secret which ought properly to be public are serious ones which tend to lower him in the eyes of right-thinking people.
“It is submitted that the statements … are clearly defamatory.”
Associated Newspapers disputes that the “reasonable reader” would understand the words complained of to “bear these meanings” or “any meaning defamatory” of Harry.
Barrister Andrew Caldecott QC, who led Associated Newspapers’ legal team, told the judge the print and online versions of “the article” were “essentially identical”.
Caldecott said, in terms of the “privacy issue”, the “article” set out a “short sequence of events”.
“There is no hint of impropriety on any sensible reading of the article,” he said.
“The claimant is not portrayed as seeking to keep the whole action secret.”
Caldecott said that, in terms of the “PR spin on the dispute” issue, Associated Newspapers invited the judge to conclude that: “The article does not accuse the claimant of lying in his initial statement about offering to pay for his security.”
He added: “The article does allege that the claimant’s PR team spun the story (or added a gloss unduly favourable to the claimant) which led to inaccurate reporting and confusion about the nature of the claim.
“It does not allege dishonesty against them.”
He went on: “The defendant submits that, on the true reasonable reading of the article, the primary criticism is of the advisers not the claimant, and then not in terms of impropriety or dishonesty.”
Caldecott told the judge that, on the “fact/opinion” issue, the “broad thrust of the defendant’s meaning is factual”.
He argued that the judge should hold that “the meanings” were “not defamatory” and dismiss the claim.
Mr Justice Nicklin said he would deliver a ruling on the preliminary issues at a later date.
Picture: Reuters/Henry Nicholls/Pool
Email email@example.com to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog