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.
Associated Newspapers Ltd. denies the allegations and wants a judge to throw out lawsuits it says impermissibly rely on information the publisher turned over in confidentiality for a 2012 probe into media law breaking.
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 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.
Associated Newspapers denies the allegations and is seeking to throw out the lawsuit, arguing the claims are too old and barred because they rely on information it turned over in confidentiality for a 2012 probe into media law breaking.
Harry said the publisher targeted him and the people closest to him by unlawfully hacking voicemails, tapping landlines, obtaining itemized 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.”
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 hearing resumes 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.