Prince William quietly settled a phone hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch’s UK media organisation for a “very large sum of money”, the High Court heard.
The Prince of Wales reached a settlement with News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publishers of The Sun and the News of the World, in 2020, according to documents filed in his brother Prince Harry’s latest legal case.
Harry, the Duke of Sussex, says he has been forced to air details of his brother’s case for the first time, as he battles an attempt by NGN to stop his own phone hacking legal claim.
And he has also revealed a “secret agreement” said to have been struck in 2012 by the media organisation to settle phone hacking claims brought by the Royal household, which Harry says has not been honoured by NGN.
“It is important to bear in mind that in responding to this bid by NGN to prevent his claims going to trial, (Harry) has had to make public the details of this secret agreement, as well as the fact that his brother, His Royal Highness, Prince William
, has recently settled his claim against NGN behind the scenes, having had to hold off bringing a claim for years for the same reasons as the Claimant”, said the Duke’s barrister David Sherborne, in written submissions to the court.
“His brother, HRH William, Prince of Wales, similarly brought a claim against NGN which it settled for a very large sum of money in 2020.”
Harry, together with actor and activist Hugh Grant, is bringing a phone hacking claim against NGN, with a trial due to take place this summer.
The Duke of Sussex is relying on more than 200 news articles which he says were the product of phone hacking or unlawful activity by journalists and investigators.
Harry claims his grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, were among the people who struck the ‘secret agreement’ with NGN, including with chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
He says the Queen agreed in 2017 that he could “pursue a resolution to matters with NGN”, accusing the firm of “filibustering” to avoid reaching a settlement.
In a statement, Harry said he and his brother were told of the deal by the Royal Family lawyers, leading them to believe they could not pursue legal claims themselves any earlier.
“The rationale behind this was that a secret agreement had been reached between the institution and senior executives at NGN whereby members of the Royal Family would bring phone hacking claims only at the conclusion of the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation and at that stage the claims would be admitted or settled with an apology”, he said.
“The reason for this was to avoid the situation where a member of the Royal Family would have to sit in the witness box and recount the specific details of the private and highly sensitive voicemails that had been intercepted by (ex-News of the World Royal Editor) Clive Goodman.
“The institution was incredibly nervous about this and wanted to avoid at all costs the sort of reputational damage that it had suffered in 1993 when The Sun and another tabloid had unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and step-mother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother.
“This agreement, including the promises from NGN for delayed resolution was, obviously, a major factor as to why no claim was brought by me at that time.”
NGN, which denies allegations of unlawful activity at The Sun, is bidding to stop the legal claims on the grounds that Harry and Mr Grant could have brought them years earlier.
“The central role these two claimants have occupied in the phone hacking scandal”, said Anthony Hudson KC, representing the media company. “They have both been front and centre.”
He said the Duke of Sussex had been “at the epicentre” of the scandal since 2006 when Goodman was jailed for hacking the phones of Royal staffers.
“So that’s 17 years that they have been deeply part of the phone hacking scandal, prosecutions, inquiries, the Leveson Inquiry, civil cases”, he said, urging Mr Justice Fancourt to end the claims for being brought too late.
The hearing at the High Court, which is due to last three days, continues.