LONDON – An attorney for the publisher of The Sun tabloid used Prince Harry's own words Thursday to argue that his phone hacking lawsuit should be thrown out.
Attorney Anthony Hudson said emails from the Duke of Sussex to the royal family's chief spokesperson indicated he was aware enough of allegations against the publisher that he could have brought a lawsuit in a timely manner.
Harry first learned that one of his voicemails had been intercepted in 2006 and knew he had a claim to bring in 2012, Hudson said.
But the prince only began pushing Buckingham Palace in late 2017 and early 2018 to pressure the British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to apologize for hacking his phone.
“There needs to be an ultimatum otherwise this institution and everything it stands for becomes a laughingstock,” the Duke of Sussex emailed the chief spokesperson for the royal family in February 2018, according to court records.
After a three day hearing in the High Court, Hudson asked a judge to throw out the hacking suits brought by Harry and actor Hugh Grant, arguing they had ample knowledge to file claims within a six-year time limit.
“It is utterly hopeless, unreal and fanciful to suggest they could not have embarked on the ... claims they have since brought,” Hudson said.
Justice Timothy Fancourt said he would rule at a later date.
The suit is one of several Harry has brought in his battle against the British tabloid press, in litigation that risks further alienating him from his family by exposing palace secrets and amplifying grievances aired in his explosive memoir “Spare.”
Court papers filed this week said Prince William, his brother, had allegedly received a “huge sum of money” in 2020 from Murdoch’s papers to go “quietly” to settle hacking allegations. Harry also said his father directed palace staff to order him to drop the lawsuit because it was bad for the family.
Attorney David Sherborne argued that the prince and Grant were aware of hacking by a rogue reporter at the former News Of The World, which Murdoch owned, but didn't realize how widespread the interceptions were until a much bigger scandal erupted in 2011 that drove the paper out of business.
The two were prevented from learning about snooping by The Sun, another Murdoch newspaper, because News Group Newspapers executives concealed evidence and lied, Sherborne said. He argued that the cover-up created an exception to the time limit for filing the lawsuit.
Sherborne also argued that Harry was prevented from bringing a case because of a “secret agreement” the royal family had with Murdoch's company. The alleged agreement was intended to shield the royals from having to testify in court and be confronted with embarrassing evidence, Harry said.
Harry said he was told he couldn't file suit because the agreement — approved by the late Queen Elizabeth II — called for News Group to reach a settlement and issue an apology to the royal family after settling its other litigation in the voicemail hacking scandal.
Fancourt said he was troubled by what appeared to be a “factual inconsistency” between Harry's claim that he didn't have knowledge before 2019 to bring a lawsuit and the prince's saying that he would have brought a case in 2012 if not for the secret agreement.
But Sherborne said he did not have enough knowledge in 2012 to bring the claim he eventually filed because he only knew about one instance of hacking.
When it appeared News Group was stalling, Harry got fed up and filed suit against the company in 2019.
News Group denied the existence of a secret agreement and said The Sun “does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations.” It had no comment on the alleged settlement with William.
Buckingham Palace did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the alleged agreement or the settlement allegedly paid to William, who is the heir to the throne.