LONDON - The Duke of Sussex has unexpectedly appeared at the High Court as legal proceedings begin in a privacy case. Prince Harry is one of those suing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, over alleged phone-tapping and other breaches of privacy. The duke was seen at the High Court on Monday morning, while singer Sir Elton John, who is also involved in the legal proceedings, arrived at lunchtime. The publisher has described the allegations as “preposterous smears”. The duke, Sir Elton and actresses Sadie Frost and Liz Hurley are among the individuals who allege unlawful information gathering by the company, which also publishes the Mail on Sunday.
A four-day preliminary High Court hearing in London, which started on Monday, will consider legal arguments and a judge will decide whether the case will go any further. Associated Newspapers (ANL) is bidding to end the claims without trial. Prince Harry’s appearance will be seen by many as a sign of his strength of feeling over his privacy and determination regarding the legal action.
Others taking part in the legal action include Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish, and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racist attack in 1993.
The group launched the legal action last year after becoming aware of “compelling and highly distressing evidence that they have been the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by ANL, according to a statement by law firm Hamlins released in October 2022. Court proceedings began with a bid by ANL’s lawyers to have certain reporting restrictions imposed in the case. The publisher’s lawyer Adrian Beltrami said in written submissions that the legal actions have been brought too late and are “stale”. David Sherborne, the lawyer for the group of prominent individuals, said in written submissions: “The claimants each claim that in different ways they were the victim of numerous unlawful acts carried out by the defendant, or by those acting on the instructions of its newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.” Sherborne said the alleged unlawful activity included “illegally intercepting voicemail messages, listening into live landline calls, obtaining private information, such as itemised phone bills or medical records, by deception or ‘blagging’, using private investigators to commit these unlawful information gathering acts on their behalf and even commissioning the breaking and entry into private property”.
He added: “They range through a period from 1993 to 2011, even continuing beyond until 2018.” The Duke of Sussex sat towards the back of the courtroom, occasionally taking notes in a small black notebook as legal arguments were made. Ms Frost sat two seats away from him. Baroness Doreen Lawrence also attended the first day of the hearing. The High Court was also told Sir Elton and Mr Furnish’s landline at their home in Windsor was tapped by a private investigator on the instructions of Associated Newspapers Limited. Documents filed on the couple’s behalf, made available to the media on Monday, said that as well as having their landline tapped, Sir Elton’s personal assistant and the couple’s gardener were also targeted. Sherborne said in the written submission: “The claimants are outraged that Associated engaged in these unlawful and illicit acts in order to publish unlawful articles about them.