Prince William settled a phone-hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper group in 2020 for a “very large sum”, lawyers for Prince Harry have said in court documents.
The settlement claims were revealed on Tuesday as a three-day hearing in London involving William’s brother, the Duke of Sussex, and actor Hugh Grant got under way.
Harry is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World, over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.
NGN is asking Mr Justice Fancourt to throw out both claims, arguing they have been brought too late.
But, responding to the publisher’s strike out application, Harry’s lawyers said it is an attempt to go behind a “secret agreement” between the Royal Family as an institution and NGN, which the duke was informed of in 2012.
In documents before the court, David Sherborne, representing Harry, said the late Queen was involved in “discussions and authorisation” of the agreement, which was that members of the Royal Family would not pursue claims against NGN until after the conclusion of the litigation over hacking.
Mr Sherborne said in written arguments that the agreement “meant that the claimant could not bring a claim against NGN for phone hacking at that time”.
Harry’s claim about William is significant – and the timing is awkward for Royal Family
Prince Harry wasn’t in court but his anger against the publishers of The Sun and News Of The World couldn’t be clearer.
And what’s striking is how his allegations in this case go right to the heart of the Royal Family.
It is alleged that the Prince of Wales had a hacking claim against the tabloids, settled in 2020 for a “very large sum of money”.
That private claim has now been made public by his brother.
We don’t know how much money William was purportedly given, or what his claim related to.
But this is a significant revelation from Harry. It shows, that like Harry, Prince William felt strongly that he had a phone-hacking case to be answered.
The difference is, William – unlike Harry – didn’t want his moment in court. Rather than potentially give evidence, the Prince of Wales and future king chose to settle out of court. It means private and potentially sensitive details about him won’t be revealed.
What is also significant is Harry’s allegation there was a “secret agreement” between the Royal Family and News Group Newspapers, authorised by the Queen.
The Duke of Sussex alleges this was struck to avoid a repeat of the “reputational damage” caused by the “tampongate” scandal, when an intimate phone call between Charles and Camilla was intercepted and leaked to the press.
Harry also talks about the Royal Family’s wider strategy with the media – and how there was a drive to “smooth the way” for public acceptance of his stepmother and father.
Harry claims he was summoned to Buckingham Palace by his father and the late Queen’s private secretary. He alleges they demanded he drop his phone-hacking cases because of the effect they would have on “all the family”.
None of these are details the Royal Family will relish being mentioned in court.
The timing is also awkward with less than two weeks until the coronation.
He added: “It was agreed directly between these parties, as opposed to their lawyers… that at the conclusion of the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation (MTVIL) News would admit or settle such a claim with an apology.
“In 2017, the claimant and the institution began to push for the outstanding claim to be resolved.
“However, News filibustered in relation to this until, in 2019, the claimant had enough and issued his claim.”
Mr Sherborne said William has “recently settled his claim against NGN behind the scenes”.
The hearing is expected to last three days and the judge will determine whether their claims will progress to a trial, which is due to be heard in January next year.
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In his written witness statement, Prince Harry claims the alleged voicemail interception “affected every area of my life”.
“It created a huge amount of paranoia in my relationships. I would become immediately suspicious of anyone that was named in a story about me, or anyone who would benefit from that story,” he added.
“I felt that I couldn’t trust anybody, which was an awful feeling for me especially at such a young age.”
The claim is one of a number of legal actions currently being brought by the duke, who appeared in person at the High Court last month for a preliminary hearing against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail and Mail On Sunday.
He is also expected to give evidence at a trial over allegations of unlawful information against tabloid publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), due to begin next month, with Harry due to appear in court in June.