Judge rejects Sun publisher’s bid to delay Prince Harry phone-hacking case

Prince Harry has won the latest bout of his long-running legal battle with the publisher of the Sun after a high court judge rejected an application to delay the trial.

News Group Newspapers (NGN) had applied to push back the trial for alleged unlawful information gathering – which is scheduled for January next year – to allow the court to examine whether claims of unlawful news gathering by Harry and 41 others were brought too late.

On Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt said there was “plainly considerable risk” that examining the timings of the claims would be costly and push the full trial back by another two years, which was “unsatisfactory”.

Harry and others, including the Labour peer Doreen Lawrence, have accused the Murdoch-owned tabloid the Sun and the now defunct News of the World of unlawful news gathering, including using private investigators, blagging confidential information, burglary, and intercepting phone calls and voicemails, from the mid-1990s until 2016.

At a hearing on Wednesday, lawyers for NGN said the court should first look at whether the claimants could have known they had a claim earlier, and could thus be ruled out of proceedings.

Claims usually have to be brought within six years. The NGN lawyers argued it was the “most efficient” way of dealing with cases and could “promote” settlements. Lawyers for the claimants argued it would delay proceedings and would be “highly disruptive and prejudicial”.

Dismissing the application, Fancourt said it “was not just and convenient … to vacate all 42 claimants’ trials in January 2025 in order to hear a trial of only one issue instead”.

NGN’s lawyers said it would pay the costs of making the request. News UK, the Sun’s parent company, paid £51.6m in costs linked to the scandal in 2023, and £128.3m in 2022.

News UK has settled more than 1,500 phone-hacking claims since the Guardian exposed the scandal, which led to the closure of the News of the World in 2011. It has consistently denied that unlawful information gathering took place at the Sun.

The road to trial in Harry’s case against NGN has been long and expensive. On Wednesday the actor Hugh Grant dropped out of the case, saying he had accepted an “enormous” settlement from the Sun.

The actor had accused the Sun of phone hacking, unlawful information gathering, landline tapping, bugging his phone and burgling his flat and office. Grant said he had been forced to settle or face a legal bill of £10m because strict rules about costs in civil litigation meant that if he had not settled and had won the case, his legal costs could have far outstripped any damages awarded to him.

On Wednesday a spokesperson for NGN said it had apologised unreservedly to phone-hacking victims in 2011 and had paid financial damages “to those with proper claims” against the News of the World, adding that the Sun did not accept liability for continuing claims against it.

Last month Harry’s lawyers sought to implicate Rupert Murdoch directly in the trial, arguing that he had “turned a blind eye” to an extensive cover-up of wrongdoing at his newspapers and had overseen a “culture of impunity”.

In a move that the Sun’s publishers criticised as an attempt to use civil proceedings as a “substitute for a public inquiry”, the duke’s barrister David Sherborne sought to amend the privacy claim to make specific allegations about the “destruction and concealment” of evidence, including by Will Lewis, the newly appointed publisher of the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos. The judge is yet to rule on whether the claim can be amended.


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