LONDON — Prince Harry’s lawsuit accusing the publisher of The Sun tabloid of unlawfully snooping on him can go to trial, but not on claims of phone hacking, a High Court judge ruled Thursday.
The Duke of Sussex alleged the publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World had hacked his phone and used investigators and deception to unlawfully gather information on him dating back two decades.
News Group Newspapers (NGN), which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, argued that the suit should be thrown because the claims were brought after the six-year limitation to do so expired.
Justice Timothy Fancourt said Harry was well enough aware of the phone hacking scandal to bring those claims sooner, but could proceed on allegations about other unlawful information gathering (UIG), such as the use of private investigators hired to dig up dirt on him.
“There is no evidence currently before me that the Duke knew before the (deadline to file a suit) that NGN had done anything other than hack his mobile phone (at the News of the World),” Fancourt wrote. “Knowing or being on notice of a worthwhile claim for voicemail interception does not of itself amount to knowledge or notice of a worthwhile claim for other forms of UIG.”
A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers called the ruling a “significant victory” that “substantially reduces the scope of his legal claim.”
The ruling was similar to one Fancourt made in May in a companion case brought by actor Hugh Grant, that also tossed out phone hacking charges.
Harry’s lawyer had argued he was prevented from bringing his case because of a “secret agreement” between the royal family and the newspapers that called for a settlement and apology. The deal, which the prince said was authorized by the late Queen Elizabeth II, would have prevented future litigation from the royals.
The publisher denied there was any secret agreement and Fancourt said Harry failed to produce evidence of such a deal.
Harry had said the rationale for the secret agreement was to avoid putting members of the royal family on the witness stand to recount embarrassing voicemails intercepted by reporters.
The case is one of three phone hacking lawsuits Harry has brought against British tabloid publishers in his battles with the press.
The decision comes less than two months after Harry testified in his lawsuit against the publishers of the Daily Mirror. He became the first senior member of the royal family to testify in a court in more than a century.