London: Prince Harry returned to a London court Tuesday as his attorney fought assertions that the phone hacking lawsuits he, Elton John and other celebrities have brought against the publisher of The Daily Mail are based on forbidden documents.
The lawsuit is one of several brought by the Duke of Sussex in his battle against the press. It alleges the company's newspapers, which also include The Mail on Sunday, commissioned the “breaking and entry into private property,” and hired private investigators to illegally bug homes and cars and to record phone conversations.
The claimants' lawyers say Associated Newspapers tasked private investigators with unlawfully obtaining information about the claimants and "even commissioning the breaking and entry into private property". The publisher vehemently denies the allegations.
Harry said in his written lawsuit that he regards Associated Newspapers' alleged conduct as "a major betrayal given promises made by the media to improve its conduct following the tragic and untimely death of his mother, Princess Diana" in 1997".
One of the most notable claimants is Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a 1993 racist attack. The Mail championed bringing her son's killers to justice and previously said the allegations involving her were "appalling and utterly groundless smears".
Lawrence says in her written case that she "feels a deep sense of betrayal" over the allegations that she was targeted.
John and his husband David Furnish allege in their written case that they were targeted on behalf of the publisher by a private investigator, which "included the landline tapping of their home in Windsor".
Associated Newspapers, which has not yet filed its written defence to the lawsuits, said in a statement that it categorically denies the allegations.
The case also includes claims by actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost. John and his husband, David Furnish, said the publisher unlawfully obtained the birth certificate of their son before they saw the document and snooped on the singer's medical records.
“I have found The Mail's deliberate invasion into my medical health and medical details surrounding the birth of our son Zachary abhorrent and outside even the most basic standards of human decency,” John wrote in a witness statement.
Harry said the publisher targeted him and the people closest to him by unlawfully hacking voicemails, tapping landlines, obtaining itemised phone bills and flight information of his then-girlfriend, Chelsy Davy.
One article by The Mail on Sunday discussed a vacation the prince took with Davy to a private polo lodge in Argentina and weekends the two spent in Cape Town.
"The article also revealed paranoia and agitation I felt as a result of the paparazzi attempting to take photographs of Chelsy and I abroad," Harry wrote in a sworn witness statement. “This intrusion was terrifying for Chelsy: it made her feel like she was being hunted and the press had caught her, and it was terrifying for me, too, because there was nothing I could do to stop it and now she was in my world.”
"The evidence I have seen shows that Associated's journalists are criminals with journalistic powers which should concern every single one of us," said Harry, who has been attending court with some of the other claimants for a four-day preliminary hearing in their case against Associated Newspapers.
Harry said he had been "vaguely" aware of phone-hacking in 2005 when it came to light the royal correspondent and a private investigator working for the defunct News of the World tabloid, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers (NGN), were targeting the phones of royal aides.
"I became aware that I had a claim that I could bring against NGN in 2018," his statement said.
"However, there was in place an agreement between the Institution and NGN that we would not engage, or even discuss, the possibility of bringing claims against NGN until the litigation against it relating to phone hacking was over.
"The Institution was without a doubt withholding information from me for a long time about NGN's phone hacking."
Whether a court ever weighs those allegations depends on a four-day hearing this week that focuses on two legal points: whether Harry and others waited too long to file cases that include allegations dating to 1993; and whether they rely on documents that should have been kept confidential.
Attorney David Sherborne, who represents Harry and the famous claimants, argued that the documents in the 2012 inquiry following a phone hacking scandal at another tabloid were presumed to be public unless marked confidential. He also said many had been the source of investigative news articles about unlawful reporting practices by Associated Newspapers.
But Justice Matthew Nicklin repeatedly pushed back on assertions that the documents were public unless Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who oversaw the earlier inquiry, had deemed them confidential.
“It’s not open season," Nicklin said. “It’s for the inquiry to decide when the material goes into the public domain.”
The documents include ledgers showing payments to private investigators
Nicklin suggested he could end up issuing a stay that would allow the claimants a chance to get restrictions lifted so they can use the documents. He also could prevent the claimants from using evidence that is vital to their case.
The vast majority of claims being brought against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), publisher of the Daily Mirror, and Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of the now-defunct News of the World and the Sun.
Harry is expected to give evidence in May at a High Court trial of his and others' privacy claims against MGN, which was launched in 2019 at the same time as a similar lawsuit against NGN. MGN is fighting Harry's case, which would be only the second "phone hacking" trial if it goes ahead and is not settled before it is heard.
John and Furnish, as well as actor Liz Hurley, have brought and settled lawsuits against MGN and NGN in recent years.
But these lawsuits mark the first time Associated Newspapers has been dragged into the row, which has seen hundreds of settlements in cases brought against MGN and NGN - which has always denied any liability in relation to the Sun.
The allegations made by Lawrence - whose fight for justice was long supported by the Daily Mail - will be most concerning to the publisher, which said it had "campaigned tirelessly for 25 years to obtain justice for Stephen Lawrence" when the lawsuits were announced in October.
Associated Newspapers said then that it had "the greatest respect and admiration" for Lawrence. The publisher added that it is "deeply saddening that whoever is cynically and unscrupulously orchestrating these claims" had persuaded her to believe the allegations.
The hearing resumes on Wednesday over the issue of whether the six-year deadline to bring a lawsuit had expired before Harry and the others filed suit.
Associated Newspapers attorney Adrian Beltrami said it would be surprising if anyone in the public eye was not been aware of news about the phone hacking long before the suit was filed.
He said Harry's best-selling memoir, “Spare" describes taking a “keen interest” in the prosecution of News of the World journalists, which was the basis for the Leveson inquiry. Evidence at trial showed they repeatedly hacked Harry's phone.
Harry was “overjoyed” at the arrest of an editor and described his “chipper mood” at the “death rattles coming from the most popular Sunday newspaper, (Rupert) Murdoch’s News of the World. The leading culprit in the hacking scandal," Beltrami wrote in court papers.