Prince Harry makes surprise U.K. court appearance for tabloid lawsuit

Britain's Prince Harry, center right, arrives at the Royal Courts Of Justice, in London, Monday, March 27, 2023. AP

Prince Harry was in a London court Monday as the lawyer for a group of British tabloids prepared to ask a judge to toss out lawsuits by the prince, Elton John and several other celebrities who allege phone tapping and other invasions of privacy.

Harry’s presence at the High Court in London is a sign of the importance he attaches to the case, one of several lawsuits the Duke of Sussex has brought against the media. The hearing is expected to last four days.

The case alleges Associated Newspapers Ltd., which publishes titles including the Daily Mail, commissioned the “breaking and entry into private property,” engaging in unlawful acts that included hiring private investigators to bug homes and cars and record private phone conversations.

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“They were the victim of numerous unlawful acts carried out by the defendant, or by those acting on the instructions of its newspapers, The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday,” lawyer David Sherborne said in a court document.

Other plaintiffs include John’s husband, David Furnish, and actors Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, who was also in court. Harry sat near the rear of the court and took notes as lawyers discussed preliminary matters.

Elton John arrives at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London, Monday, March 27, 2023. AP

The allegations date back to 1993 and continue beyond 2018, Sherborne said.

The publisher said the claims are too old to be brought now and should also be thrown out because they rely on information the newspapers turned over in confidentiality for a 2012 probe into media law breaking.

“It would be surprising indeed for any reasonably informed member of the public, let alone a figure in the public eye, to have been unaware of these matters,” lawyer Adrian Beltrami said in writing.

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Britain held a year-long inquiry into press ethics after revelations in 2011 that News of the World tabloid employees eavesdropped on the mobile phone voicemails of celebrities, politicians and a teenage murder victim.

Owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the newspaper amid a criminal investigation and public uproar. Several journalists were convicted, and Murdoch’s company paid millions in damages to dozens of hacking victims.

In the inquiry’s 2012 report, Lord Justice Brian Leveson said “outrageous” behaviour by some in the press had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.”

Judge Matthew Nicklin, who is hearing the current eavesdropping case, is also overseeing a separate libel lawsuit Harry brought against Associated Newspapers over an article about his quest for police protection when he and his family visit the U.K.

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Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, and his wife, the former actor Meghan Markle, stepped down as working royals in 2020 and moved to the U.S., citing what they described as the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.

Harry has said he wants to make reforming the British media his life’s work. He fumes at the U.K. media throughout his memoir Spare, published in January. He blamed an overly aggressive press for the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana, and also accused the media of hounding Meghan.

The couple has turned to British courts to combat what they see as media mistreatment. In December 2021, Meghan won an invasion-of-privacy case against Associated Newspapers over the Mail on Sunday’s publication of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

Harry is also suing the publisher of another tabloid, the Mirror, in a separate hacking suit.

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