The Duke of Sussex claim could be one of the “test cases” in the tabloid hacking trial
The Duke of Sussex’s claim against a tabloid newspaper publisher over hacking allegations could be one of the central issues in a planned High Court trial later this year.
Harry is one of a number of high-profile individuals bringing damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over alleged illegal information gathering by the titles.
Other celebrities involved in the case include singer and former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, the estate of the late singer George Michael, ex-footballer and TV presenter Ian Wright and actor Ricky Tomlinson.
Justice Fancourt will consider the scope of a planned six-to-seven-week trial, due to start in May, at a hearing in London on Wednesday – including which plaintiffs will be selected as “test cases”.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs suggest Harry and Cheryl’s cases are “representative” claims and should be among those selected for trial.
David Sherborne, representing the plaintiffs, told the court that Harry’s plea “covers the largest number of private investigators”, with 25 of the main private investigators alleged to have engaged in illegal activity in the overall case.
The judge was told that lawyers have identified 148 articles published about Harry between 1996 and 2010 which allegedly used information obtained by illegal means – such as phone hacking – which have been narrowed down to a selection of 50 and could be reduced further.
Mr Sherborne said Harry would be the only witness in his claim, if the judge approves him as one of a small number of “test” cases to be tried.
The lawyer said the articles identified in relation to Cheryl, who was referred to in court by her maiden name Tweedy, were published up until 2011 – after the hacking scandal broke.
MGN opposes the claimants’ proposals from the Duke of Sussex and Cheryl and suggests alternative claimants including Wright.
Andrew Green KC, for the publisher, told the court: “The Duke of Sussex is clearly not representative, there’s just no way it can be said that he is.”
Mr Green said only a small number of the articles relating to Harry would be considered if he was selected, meaning other test claimants whose cases involve a smaller number of articles would be more representative.
He also said that other proposals for test seekers, including Wright and Tomlinson, also covered a large number of private investigators, and that Wright would cover the category of sports personalities.
He claimed that Cheryl was more representative, but that the volume of articles about her was relatively small and only one of the articles was published in 2011.
Justice Fancourt is expected to give his decision on which cases will be selected later on Wednesday.
MGN, the publisher of titles including The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People, has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to illegal information gathering, as has News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the publisher of the now defunct News Of The World and The Sun – in a separate ongoing court case.
A previous trial against representative claims, including those brought by former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost, was heard in 2015 and is the only trial to have taken place during the long-running trial.
A number of other cases have since been settled by both MGN and NGN. The phone-hacking scandal led to the closure of News Of The World in 2011.
The Duke of Sussex is involved in other lawsuits against newspapers and is bringing two separate lawsuits against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail, The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.
It was announced on Wednesday that a hearing into one of his claims, over The Mail On Sunday’s coverage of Harry’s legal challenge against the Home Office over his security arrangements for his family when they visit the UK, will take place at the High Court on March 17.
Hertugen and ANL previously agreed to put the case on hold to carry out negotiations with a view to reaching a settlement until 20 January.
The High Court heard last December that if no settlement could be agreed, the Duke would ask the court to either strike out ANL’s defense or grant summary judgment in his favour, avoiding the need for a trial.
A preliminary hearing in a separate trial by Harry over alleged illegal information gathering at ANL titles, which brings together other high-profile figures including Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John, is set for March 27.
Harry has been outspoken in his criticism of the British press, most recently in his memoir Spare and in a number of TV interviews.