LONDON (AP) – A lawsuit by Prince Harry, Elton John and five other public figures accusing a newspaper publisher of using private detectives and listening devices to illegally snoop on them should go to a full trial, a British judge ruled Friday.
Judge Matthew Nicklin rejected a bid by the publisher of the Daily Mail to dismiss the case without trial, saying defence lawyers had not delivered a “knockout blow” to the claims.
The claimants, who include John’s husband David Furnish and actors Elizabeth Hurley and Sadie Frost, accuse publisher Associated Newspapers Ltd of unlawfully gathering information by bugging homes and cars, recording phone conversations and using deceit to obtain medical records.
Harry said the publisher targeted him and the people closest to him by unlawfully hacking voicemails, tapping landlines, obtaining itemised phone bills and the flight information of his then-girlfriend, Chelsy Davy.
Associated Newspapers strongly denies the allegations and asked the judge to throw out the case. At hearings in March its lawyers argued that the claims -– which date as far back as 1993 — were brought too late and that claimants were relying on confidential evidence the papers turned over to a 2012 public inquiry into tabloid wrongdoing, sparked by revelations of phone hacking by the now-defunct News of the World.
Nicklin ruled that the claimants cannot rely on the documents handed over to the inquiry, which were ordered to be kept confidential by its head, Brian Leveson. They allegedly include records of payments to private investigators by the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.
But the judge said the case can go ahead because the claims “have a real prospect of succeeding.”
“Associated has not been able to deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to the claims of any of these claimants,” the judge said in a written ruling.
He rejected the publisher’s argument that the case should be dismissed because the claims had not been brought within six years of the alleged offense.
“In my judgment, each claimant has a real prospect of demonstrating that Associated, or those for whom Associated is responsible, concealed from him/her the relevant facts upon which a worthwhile claim of unlawful information gathering could have been advanced,” the judge wrote.
The seven claimants, who also include anti-racism campaigner Doreen Lawrence and former politician Simon Hughes, said they were “delighted” by the judgment.
“As we have maintained since the outset, we bring our claims over the deplorable and illegal activities which took place over many years, including private investigators being hired to place secretly listening devices inside our cars and homes, the tapping of our phone calls, corrupt payments to police for inside information, and the illegal accessing of our medical information from hospitals and financial information from banks,” they said in a statement issued through their lawyers.
“We intend to uncover the truth at trial and hold those responsible at Associated Newspapers fully accountable.”
Associated Newspapers said the ruling on the confidential material was a “significant victory.”
“As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone-hacking, landline-tapping, burglary and sticky-window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course,” the publisher said in a statement.
The case is one of several lawsuits brought in the UK by Harry, who has made it a personal mission to tame Britain’s tabloid press. He blames the media for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi.
Harry and his wife Meghan cited press intrusion as a reason for their decision to quit royal duties in 2020 and move to California.
The judge set a new hearing in the case for November 21. No date has been set for the trial, where Prince Harry could give evidence. He unexpectedly attended the March hearings in the Associated Newspapers case, though he did not take the stand.
In June he became the first senior member of the royal family to testify in court in more than a century when he gave evidence in a separate phone hacking lawsuit against the publishers of the Daily Mirror. There hasn’t yet been a ruling in that case.
Harry is also suing the publisher of The Sun newspaper alongside actor Hugh Grant. That case is scheduled to go to trial early next year.