Queen Elizabeth II entered into a “Secret Agreement” with Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids to spare Princes William and Harry from a phone hacking trial, the Duke of Sussex has claimed in new legal papers.
The late monarch and top Buckingham Palace staff approved the deal – allegedly negotiated without legal advice – in 2012 with the publishers of The Sun and News of the World in a bid to avoid “reputational damage” to the Royal “institution”.
Prince Harry’s lawyers made the revelation today at the High Court in London as Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) bids to “strike out” an action over the alleged interception of Royal communications and the theft of other private information for stories.
NGN is challenging claims brought by Harry and the actor Hugh Grant on the basis, it says, they have exceeded a six-year time limit for bringing a legal action and therefore cannot have their cases tested at trial in February 2024.
Lawyers for both say NGN concealed and destroyed evidence of widespread newsroom criminality and that any matter of “limitation” should be decided at a full trial.
Don’t miss a story
Harry’s position is that NGN broke the “Secret Agreement” it had with his grandmother and the Royal “institution”, and under which he revealed Prince William quietly settled his own case for misuse of private information in 2020 for a “very large sum of money”.
Explaining the 2012 “agreement”, the Duke of Sussex said: “My brother and I were also told by either the institution’s solicitor, Gerrard Tyrrell of Harbottle & Lewis, or someone else from the institution that there was no possibility of either of us bringing a claim against NGN for phone hacking at that time.
“The rationale behind this was that a secret agreement had been reached between the institution and senior executives at NGN whereby members of the Royal Family would bring phone hacking claims only at the conclusion of the Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation (MTVIL) [a so-far 12-year series of phone hacking lawsuits that has cost NGN more than estimated £1.5bn] and at that stage the claims would be admitted or settled with an apology.”
The Duke of Sussex said the Queen and Palace were motivated to keep further details of any Royal communications – which NGN admitted in 2006 it was intercepting via former NotW Royal Editor Clive Goodman – out of the public domain for fear of a repeat of the 1993 ‘tampon-gate’ scandal in which taped calls between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were published, revealing an affair between the future King and Queen Consort.
Harry added: “The reason for this [secret agreement] was to avoid the situation where a member of the Royal Family would have to sit in the witness box and recount the specific details of the private and highly sensitive voicemails that had been intercepted by Clive Goodman.
“The institution was incredibly nervous about this and wanted to avoid at all costs the sort of reputational damage that it had suffered in 1993 when The Sun and another tabloid had unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and step-mother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother.
“This agreement, including the promises from NGN for delayed resolution was, obviously, a major factor as to why no claim was brought by me at that time.”
NGN itself denies any wrongdoing on behalf of The Sun and did not confirm the existence of the Secret Agreement, continually referring to it as an allegation rather than a fact, but saying in any event it showed Harry knew he had a case in 2012 and should therefore have come to court no later than 2018.
The Duke’s lawyers added: “In 2017, the Claimant and the Institution began to push for the outstanding claim to be resolved. However, News filibustered in relation to this until, in 2019, the Claimant had enough and issued his claim.
There was disruption at the start of the three-day “limitation” hearing when streaming of proceedings failed in Court 15 at the Royal Courts of Justice’s Rolls Building – denying both Claimants, who were not present in person, the ability to follow their case, forcing Managing Judge Mr Justice Fancourt to move matters to a much smaller Court 24.
There, more than an hour later than expected, Justice Fancourt opened by describing the NGN application as one for “summary judgment” to dismiss the case, without the hearing of oral evidence or cross-examination.
Justice Fancourt will hear closing arguments on Thursday and will hand down his judgment at a date to be set.
The case continues…
Dan Evans is the Founding Editor of Byline Investigates
Transparency Statement: The author of this article is a whistle-blower on phone hacking at NGN and has given statements for the Claimants in the MTVIL.