LONDON – Prince Harry and Elton John were in a London court Monday as the lawyer for a group of British tabloids asked a judge to toss the lawsuit they brought with several other high-profile people who allege phone hacking and other invasions of privacy.
Harry’s presence at the High Court in London signals the importance of the case, one of several lawsuits the Duke of Sussex has brought in his battle against the press. The hearing is expected to conclude Thursday.
The case alleges Associated Newspapers Ltd., which publishes The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday, commissioned the “breaking and entry into private property,” and engaging in unlawful acts that included hiring private investigators to bug homes, cars and record private phone conversations.
“They were the victim of numerous unlawful acts carried out by the defendant, or by those acting on the instructions of its newspapers,” attorney David Sherborne said in a court document.
Sherborne who also represents John’s husband, David Furnish, and actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, said the intrusions were “habitual and widespread” and later “concealed or covered up.”
Articles were falsely attributed to “friends,” a family source, palace sources, royal insider, or similar phrases to throw subjects “off the scent” of the true origin, Sherborne said.
Among the allegations in court papers were that Associated Newspapers unlawfully obtained the birth certificate of John and Furnish’s child before they had seen the document and illegally gleaned information on Harry’s previous relationship with Chelsy Davy, a jewelry designer from Zimbabwe.
The publisher is also alleged to have hired a private investigator to hack Hurley’s phone, stuck a mini-microphone on a window outside her home and bugged ex-boyfriend Hugh Grant’s car to gather financial information, travel plans and medical information during her pregnancy.
John and Furnish arrived in court after a lunch break and sat in the gallery for part of the afternoon before bowing out. Harry sat near Frost toward the rear of the court during the whole session and occasionally took notes.
The case is a replay to some extent of the British phone hacking scandal that was front page news a decade ago and eventually brought down another tabloid and ended with the conviction of the former spokesperson for then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
The allegations date primarily from 1993 to 2011 but also stretch beyond 2018, Sherborne said.
The publisher denies the allegations and said the claims are too old to be brought and information about the phone hacking scandal was so widely known the subjects could have sued years ago.
“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,” attorney Adrian Beltrami said in writing.
He also argued that the suit should be thrown out because it relies on information the newspapers turned over in confidentiality for a 2012 probe into media law breaking.
Beltrami said it was ironic Harry and others claimed the publisher illegally obtained information about them from evidence that was supposed to have been kept private and, thus, was itself gathered in violation of the law.
Sherborne argued that documents used in the 2012 inquiry were presumed to be public unless marked confidential.
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 $388 million in settlements to dozens of hacking victims, legal fees and other costs associated with investigations.
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who had resigned and became communications chief to Conservative Party leader Cameron, was convicted of phone hacking and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In the inquiry’s 2012 report, Lord Justice Brian Leveson said “outrageous” behavior by some in the press had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.”
Justice 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.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, and his wife, the former actress 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 British media throughout his memoir “Spare,” published in January. He accused them of hounding Meghan and blamed an overly aggressive press for the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana, which is mentioned in court papers.
The prince's lawyer said the unlawful conduct by Associated Newspapers was "a major betrayal given promises made by the media to improve its conduct following the tragic and untimely death of his mother.”
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.