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Judge describes troubling inaccuracies in Prince Harry’s hacking testimony

 April 27, 2023

A High Court judge raised concerns about inconsistencies in Prince Harry's testimony in his legal battle with British news publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN).

The Duke of Sussex recently claimed that a "secret agreement" between the Royal Family and news executives prevented him from bringing up his phone hacking claims earlier, as reported by the Daily Mail.

The "Secret Agreement"

In a 31-page witness statement, Prince Harry alleged that a "secret agreement" with NGN, approved by the Queen, barred him from pursuing claims earlier.

According to the Duke, the Royal Family agreed not to pursue NGN until after the group's legal battle with other hacking claimants ended, after which the royals' claims would be quietly "admitted or settled with an apology." NGN denies the existence of such an agreement.

Judge Questions Inconsistencies

During a three-day preliminary hearing, Prince Harry's lawyers are challenging NGN's attempt to strike out the claim on the grounds that it was brought too late.

However, Justice Fancourt has questioned how Prince Harry could simultaneously argue that he lacked knowledge of phone hacking prior to 2019 and that he was prevented from bringing a claim in 2012.

The judge also inquired why David Sherborne, Prince Harry's counsel, introduced this new evidence without making an application to submit it to the court.

Other Parties Involved

NGN, the publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, is fighting to strike out the cases that Prince Harry and actor Hugh Grant brought, arguing that they should have been filed earlier. NGN contends that it is "fanciful" for Prince Harry to claim he did not know about phone hacking before 2019.

Prince Harry is currently engaged in three legal battles against three media groups, accusing them of using illegal activities to target him in the name of journalism. Last month, he appeared in person for his case against the publisher of the Daily Mail, with a judge currently considering whether that case should be allowed to proceed to a full trial.

Phone Hacking Scandal: An Overview

The phone hacking scandal involving Prince Harry dates back to the mid-2000s when he was a serving officer in the British Army. The illegal practice involved intercepting voicemail messages left for him by journalists; NGN, a subsidiary of News International, was among the newspapers accused of participating in the phone hacking.

In 2011, it was revealed that journalists at NGN had also hacked the phones of numerous other celebrities, politicians, and members of the British royal family, which led to a major scandal in the UK and resulted in the closure of News of the World, a newspaper owned by News International. Prince Harry and other victims of phone hacking filed cases against NGN for invasion of privacy.

NGN's Previous Settlements

Since the phone hacking scandal broke, NGN has settled a number of claims related to the News of the World, which closed in 2011. However, the publisher has consistently denied any unlawful information gathering at The Sun.

The court is expected to decide whether to allow the new evidence when Grant, who also attends the proceedings via video link, appears. Prince Harry is also expected to attend another phone hacking action against the Mirror Group, though he could not arrange to attend this case in person.

The inconsistencies in Prince Harry's testimony could have significant implications for his case against NGN. If the court finds his claims contradictory, it could weaken his overall case and potentially lead to its dismissal.

Prince Harry's Awareness of Phone Hacking: In Question

NGN argues that Prince Harry was at the "epicenter" of the phone hacking scandal, making it unlikely that he was unaware of the situation before 2019. This assertion, coupled with the judge's concerns about the inconsistencies in the Duke's testimony, raises questions about the strength of Prince Harry's claims.

If the court ultimately determines that there was a "secret agreement" between the Royal Family and NGN, it could have far-reaching consequences for the British monarchy. The revelation of such an agreement would likely cause a public relations crisis and raise questions about the integrity of the Royal Family and its dealings with the media.

Legal Precedent

The outcome of Prince Harry's case could set a legal precedent for future phone hacking cases in the United Kingdom. If the Duke is successful, it could pave the way for other victims of phone hacking to pursue similar claims against media organizations. Conversely, if the court finds against Prince Harry, it could discourage potential claimants from coming forward and set a higher bar for future phone hacking cases. The case serves as a reminder of the ongoing battle between public figures and the media in the realm of privacy and journalistic ethics.