Yesterday, Prince Harry’s phone-hacking claim against the publisher of The Sun was thrown out after a dispute regarding a “secret agreement” between Buckingham Palace and the media, reports Daily Mail.
The Duke of Sussex originally claimed that the deal, kept under wraps by both palace courtiers and newspaper executives, was the reason he didn’t bring the case up sooner.
After starting his action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) - The Sun and News of the World’s publisher -he was informed that he was too late.
According to British law, claimants have six years to proceed with legal action after they gain knowledge of the alleged activity.
However, Harry’s argument was that, due to the publisher’s “secret agreement” with the Palace in 2012, he couldn’t start the legal battle within the time frame.
Harry’s sweeping claim prompted a hearing, which was held at the beginning of July, to get the facts of the supposed deal.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Fancourt ruled that such an agreement was “implausible” and went on to reject the Duke of Sussex’s bid to use it to substantiate his claim.
He therefore ruled that Harry’s phone-hacking aspect of the trial was “time barred” and, therefore, dismissed.
However, the rest of the Prince’s case, which claims he was the victim of illegal activity such as private investigators “blagging” secrets about him, will remain in the trial scheduled for January next year.
Horses galloping in opposite directions
At the centre of the latest court proceedings, Harry seems to argue two seemingly contradictory sides.
The judge admitted previously that he was confused by the Prince’s claims that he did not have sufficient knowledge of the alleged hacking prior to 2018 to argue his case, however, he also claimed that he has been stopped from speaking publicly about it in 2012 by a “secret agreement”.
Fancourt said in his ruling that it was “inconsistent” to claim both of these things at the same time. He further said that no one is allowed to chase “alternative and inconsistent factual cases”, and said the Duke of Sussex’s evidence to the court was “therefore contrary” to his own case.
The publisher’s barrister, Anthony Hudson KC, earlier compared Harry’s claims with attempting to ride two horses galloping in opposite directions.
He further dubbed the mentions of a secret agreement “Alice in Wonderland stuff” and a “construct” of the royal’s attorneys.
Surprising bad memory
Fancourt revealed that he found it “surprising” that Harry had not recalled the alleged secret deal when he first started working on the case. He stated that there was “no explanation as to how the Duke was unable to remember” the supposed agreement when putting together his witness statement back in March 2021.
The judge said that Prince Harry had not only signed the “statement of truth” which didn’t have any mention of the deal but also failed to bring it up when signing another official court document back in November 2021 - two years after he first began the case. He had not even addressed the agreement in his tell-all memoir Spare.
Mr Justice Fancourt said: “In my judgment, it is implausible that the duke did not remember before March 2023 if a secret agreement was made.”
Harry’s attorney suggested that the duke had “refreshed his memory” after reading certain emails.
Harry’s evidence “not strong”
Fancourt said the only evidence of the secret deal existing came from Harry’s testimony and was “not strong evidence”.
He said: “The duke is unable to identify between whom the secret agreement was made, or even who it was who told him about it.”
In Harry’s case, he claims he was aware that his phone had been hacked in 2006 by News of the World, as well as in 2012 when there were further signs that he and William had been hacked.
However, the young royal discovered there was a secret agreement under which the two princes could not take legal action against the publisher until the end of hacking litigation, by which time the newspaper would pay compensation and issue apologies to the brothers.
Mr Justice Fancourt said that he expected to be provided with some evidence from palace courtiers who had allegedly struck the deal, or Harry’s lawyer, adding: “But there is none.”
He said: “The duke has not provided any evidence from those in the Palace who would have been aware of a secret agreement if there was one.”