The Prince of Wales has reportedly reached a settlement with News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and News Of The World, over claims of phone hacking. The settlement was reached behind the scenes and Kensington Palace declined to comment on behalf of the Prince.
Meanwhile, Prince Harry is suing NGN over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles. NGN is asking the judge to throw out both claims, arguing they have been brought too late. However, Harry's lawyers have argued that there was a “secret agreement” between the royal family and NGN, which meant members of the royal family would not pursue claims against NGN until after the conclusion of the litigation over hacking.
In documents before the court, David Sherborne, representing Harry, said the late Queen Elizabeth II was involved in “discussions and authorisation” of the agreement, which meant that the claimant could not bring a claim against NGN for phone hacking at that time. Sherborne also revealed that Prince William had “recently settled his claim against NGN behind the scenes.”
The barrister said William's settlement was part of the agreement with NGN and that members of the royal family would only bring phone hacking claims at the conclusion of the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation, with claims to be admitted or settled with an apology.
According to Harry's witness statement, he and William were told by the institution's solicitor or someone else from the institution that there was no possibility of either of them bringing a claim against NGN for phone hacking at that time. The rationale behind this was that a secret agreement had been reached between the institution and senior executives at NGN.
Harry's legal team argued that the agreement was a major factor as to why no claim was brought by him at that time, as it promised delayed resolution and avoided the reputational damage suffered in 1993 by the institution when The Sun and another tabloid unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between his father and stepmother in 1989, while his father was still married to his mother.
The judge will determine whether Harry's claims will progress to a trial, which is due to be heard in January next year. This is one of several legal actions currently being brought by the Duke, who appeared in person at the High Court last month for a preliminary hearing against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail and Mail On Sunday. Harry is also expected to give evidence at a trial over allegations of unlawful information against tabloid publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), due to begin next month, with Harry due to appear in court in June.
Harry's claims stem from alleged unlawful information gathering and invasion of privacy by the tabloids, and this case highlights the ongoing tensions between the British royal family and the media. It remains to be seen whether the “secret agreement” between the royal family and NGN will have any bearing on the outcome of the case.