Harry 'kept out of loop' over extent of phone hacking against Royal Family

Prince Harry is suing the owners of The Sun. Credit: PA

The Duke of Sussex was "kept out of the loop" by his family and royal aids about the extent of the phone hacking used against him by tabloid newspapers, his lawyers have told the High Court.

Harry, 38, is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) over alleged unlawful information gathering at two of its titles, The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World – claiming that his private information was unlawfully accessed.

NGN is bringing a bid to have Harry’s case thrown out, along with a similar claim by actor Hugh Grant, at a three-day hearing in London which started on Tuesday, arguing they have been brought too late.

During the first day of the case on Tuesday, in a 31-page witness statement prepared by the duke for the hearing, Harry claimed Prince William settled a claim against NGN for a "for a huge sum."

Prince Harry has long been frustrated by tabloid intrusions into his life. Credit: PA

Prince Harry's lawyers pointed out NGN had not tried to throw that case out.

It was also alleged in Harry's prepared statement the King had tried to stop the legal action because he wanted to keep the media on side.

On Wednesday, responding to the publisher’s strike-out application, Harry’s lawyers said it is an attempt to go behind a "secret agreement" between the royal family as an institution and NGN, which the duke was informed of in 2012.

David Sherborne, representing Harry, told the court on Wednesday that, before 2012, the duke believed there was only one voicemail which his brother the Prince of Wales left for him that had been intercepted.

The barrister claimed Harry thought the tabloid press "wouldn’t have been stupid enough to go after his messages, given the security services’ involvement", and that there were members of royal staff who he was aware believed they had been hacked but he was "kept out of the loop".

Hugh Grant is part of Harry's claim. Credit: PA

"He was told more in 2012 but that was essentially dealt with by his family, the institution as he described it.

"That is no criticism of the (late) Queen or his family, that is how it was done and he accepted it.

"One also has to remember at the times he was on active service in Afghanistan."

The barrister said Harry did not have access to The Guardian newspaper, which reported extensively on the phone hacking scandal, while there.

The barrister told Mr Justice Fancourt, hearing the case, that what Harry did know by 2012 was that "an agreement (had been) reached between the institution and News Group."

He continued: “It was a secret agreement and it meant that his claim and the claim of his brother … the claims which would be hugely embarrassing for News Group, would be dealt with once this litigation came to an end.

The barrister said that, if NGN loses its application and the case goes to a planned trial in January, senior News Group executives Rebekah Brooks and Robert Thomson "who were involved in the secret agreement and subsequent negotiations" will have to give evidence.

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Mr Sherborne said both Harry and Mr Grant were following the case by video link and Mr Grant, who currently has filming commitments, is due to attend the third day of the hearing on Thursday.

NGN has previously settled a number of claims since the phone hacking scandal broke in relation to The News Of The World, which closed in 2011, but has consistently denied that any unlawful information-gathering took place at The Sun.

The publisher’s lawyers argued on Tuesday that Harry was “at the epicentre” of the scandal since as long ago as 2006 and therefore aware he could have brought a claim sooner, and said his evidence that he was prevented from doing so by a “secret agreement” is “without merit in fact or law”.

In documents before the court, Mr Sherborne, representing Harry, said the late Queen was involved in “discussions and authorisation” of the agreement, which was that members of the royal family would not pursue claims against NGN until after the conclusion of the litigation over hacking.

Mr Sherborne claimed in written arguments that the agreement “meant that the claimant could not bring a claim against NGN for phone hacking at that time”.

Anthony Hudson KC, for NGN, said the publisher’s position is that “there was no such secret agreement”.