Duke of Sussex libel claim against publisher set for summer High Court hearing

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The Duke of Sussex’s libel claim against a newspaper publisher over its reporting about his security is due to have its first High Court hearing this summer.

Harry is bringing a libel action against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday, after the paper ran a story under the headline “Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over police bodyguards a secret … then – just minutes after the story broke – his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute”.

The article was published in February this year, while the duke was involved in separate litigation against the Home Office over his security arrangements when he is in the UK.

Harry’s lawyers are claiming the newspaper’s allegations “constitute an attack on his honesty and integrity and undermine his fitness to be involved both in charitable and philanthropic work in general”.

Since the duke first filed his claim, a High Court judge has refused his application to have the issue of whether there was “serious harm” to his reputation decided at a preliminary trial due to be held between June and July.

Mr Justice Nicklin said in a written court order: “I have refused to direct trial of the issue of serious harm.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their children will attend the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the UK in June (Aaron Chown/PA)

(PA Wire)

“I appreciate that the claimant’s [The Duke of Sussex] case is one based, at this stage, solely upon inference, but ultimately this is an issue of fact.

“The defendant [ANL] must have an opportunity to advance any factual case in answer to the claimant’s inferential case.

“This makes the issue unsuitable for determination as a preliminary issue.”

The judge said the question of serious harm could only be “fairly tried” as a preliminary issue after the cases of each side had been pleaded and following disclosure of evidence and the potential cross-examination of witnesses at trial.

If the claim advances to a later full trial, a judge will have to make a ruling on whether the article caused the duke serious harm.

In a court filing outlining his claim against ANL, Harry says its reporting allegedly caused him “substantial hurt, embarrassment and distress which is continuing”.

“They are plainly calculated to incite, as they did incite, public opprobrium,” his lawyers said of the allegations, claiming that they triggered a “feeding frenzy of hostile comments” online.

Harry’s legal team claim that the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the Mail on Sunday’s reporting includes that he “lied” about always being willing to pay for police protection in the UK and had “improperly and cynically tried to manipulate and confuse public opinion by authorising his ‘spin doctors’ to put out false and misleading statements”.

Mr Justice Nicklin said the preliminary issue trial, due to be heard on a date between June 7 and July 1, will cover the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the reporting complained of, whether it is a statement of fact or opinion and whether it is defamatory.

Harry is bringing a High Court challenge against the Home Office after being told he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security when visiting from the US, despite offering to pay for it himself.

The duke wants to bring his son Archie and baby daughter Lilibet to visit from the US, with his lawyers previously saying he and his family are “unable to return to his home” because it is too dangerous.

The Home Office previously said that the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures (Ravec), which has delegated powers from the Home Secretary, had attributed to the duke “a form of exceptional status” where he is considered for personal protective security by the police “with the precise arrangements being dependent on the reason for his presence in Great Britain and by reference to the functions he carries out when present”.

On Friday, it was disclosed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their children will attend the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the UK in June.

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