10 November 2023

Harry’s High Court claim against Mail publisher can continue, judge rules

10 November 2023

The Duke of Sussex, 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.

At a hearing in March, ANL, 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 ANL 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 ANL concealed “relevant facts” that would have allowed them to bring a claim against the publisher earlier.

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 ANL, 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.

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