Britain’s Prince William has settled a phone-hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm for a “very large sum” after a secret deal struck with Buckingham Palace, lawyers for the heir’s brother Prince Harry said in court documents.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, is suing Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court in London for multiple unlawful acts allegedly committed on behalf of its tabloids, the Sun and now defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.
NGN, which has paid out millions of pounds to settle more than a thousand phone-hacking cases, is trying this week to strike out Harry’s claim, and that of British actor Hugh Grant, arguing they should have taken action sooner.
Harry railed against senior NGN figures and his own family, whom he has accused of colluding with the press to protect their image, saying a “secret agreement” was struck between Buckingham Palace and senior figures at NGN to avoid embarrassment, according to a 31-page witness statement.
Despite having the backing of the late Queen Elizabeth to take on the Murdoch group, Harry said attempts to get an apology from them had been stonewalled.
Still, he said NGN had settled William’s claim “for a huge sum of money in 2020 … without any of the public being told, and seemingly with some favourable deal in return for him going ‘quietly’ so to speak”.
“This goes to prove the existence of this secret agreement between the institution and senior executives at NGN.”
In 2012, Murdoch’s British newspaper group issued an unreserved apology for widespread hacking carried out by journalists at the News of the World, which the media mogul had been forced to shut down amid a backlash, although it still rejects any allegations of wrongdoing at the Sun.
During a criminal trial brought against News of the World journalists and others in 2014, its former royal editor Clive Goodman said in the mid-2000s he had hacked the voicemails of Harry and William, and those of William’s wife, Kate.
Her phone was hacked 155 times, William’s 35 and Harry’s nine times, Goodman said.
William’s office said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings and NGN had no comment on the deal with William.
In his submission, NGN’s lawyer Anthony Hudson denied there was any “secret agreement” between the publisher and the royal family. He argued that, even if there was a deal, it did not affect their case that the lawsuit was brought too late.
The case, one of four Harry is currently pursuing against British publishers, comes in the wake of his Netflix documentary and memoir ‘Spare,’ in which he accused tabloids of widespread unlawful activity and said his family had colluded with them to enhance or protect their own reputations.
His lawyers said under the secret deal, the royals had agreed to hold off from pursuing their claims against NGN until the conclusion of other outstanding phone-hacking litigation.
Buckingham Palace “wanted to avoid at all costs” the reputational damage caused by publication in the 1990s of details of an “intimate telephone conversation” between Charles and the now-Queen Consort Camilla, when his father was still married to his mother Princess Diana, Harry’s statement said.
After his engagement to Meghan in late 2017, Harry said he wanted the phone-hacking issue resolved. The queen gave her backing for him to pursue his case and seek an apology from Murdoch himself, he said.
But despite the queen’s intervention, a year later the palace lawyer had told him “nothing could be done as NGN were not in a position to apologise to Her Majesty the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family at that stage” in case it incriminated the Sun.
After turning to outside lawyers to launch his own litigation in 2019, he said he was summoned to Buckingham Palace and told to drop it by his father and senior aides.
“They had a specific long-term strategy to keep the media (including NGN) onside in order to smooth the way for my stepmother (and father) to be accepted by the British public as Queen Consort (and King respectively) when the time came,” Harry wrote.
Anything that might “upset the apple cart”, including phone hacking claims, was to be avoided at all costs.
The preliminary hearing will last three days, with a trial due in January if the judge allows it to go ahead.
Harry, who now lives in California with his family, was not in court, but would be watching proceedings by videolink, his lawyer David Sherborne said.