Judge oversees hearing in Harry’s libel claim against newspaper publisher

A High Court judge is overseeing a preliminary hearing after the Duke of Sussex filed a libel claim against a newspaper publisher over stories about his legal action against the Home Office.

Harry is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over articles written following a separate High Court hearing from the Duke over his security arrangements while in the UK .

Associated Newspapers disputes this claim.

Judge Nicklin is overseeing a hearing in the High Court in London and is considering a number of preliminary issues: the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the parts of the articles of the claim; if it is a statement of “fact or opinion”; and if they are defamatory.

Barrister Justin Rushbrooke QC, who leads Harry’s legal team, told the judge in a written case statement that Harry made the complaint following an article on the website and an article in the Mail Sunday in February.

He argued that the two articles were ‘defamatory’ and meant that Harry had ‘lied’, had ‘incorrectly and cynically’ tried to manipulate public opinion and had ‘tried to keep his legal fight with the government a secret from the public’. .

Mr Rushbrooke said Associated Newspapers disputed that the offending words carried “defamatory meaning” of Harry.

In his written complaint to the court, Harry said the reporting caused him “substantial injury, inconvenience and continuing distress”.

Harry is making his separate complaint against the Home Office after being told he would no longer have the ‘same degree’ of personal protection when visiting from the US, despite offering to pay him -same.

He argues that his private protection team in the United States does not have adequate overseas jurisdiction or access to British intelligence information needed to keep his family safe.

However, Robert Palmer QC, for the Home Office, previously told the court that the Duke’s private funding offer was ‘not relevant’ and that ‘police personal protective security is not available on a privately funded basis”.

Mr Rushbrooke told Judge Nicklin how Harry alleged the online and print articles had ‘libelous meanings’.

He added: “…that the claimant lied in his initial public statements that he had always been willing to pay for police protection in the UK, when the true position, as revealed by High Court documents, was that he had only recently made such an offer, after his dispute began and after his visit to the UK in June 2021.

‘Inappropriately and cynically attempted to manipulate and confuse public opinion by allowing its ‘spin-doctors’ to publish false and misleading statements about its willingness to pay for police protection immediately after the Mail on Sunday had revealed that he was suing the government.

“He tried to keep his legal fight with the government a secret from the public, including the fact that he expected British taxpayers to pay for his police protection, in a way that was inappropriate and showed a lack of transparency on his part.”

Mr Rushbrooke said Associated Newspapers disputed whether the ‘reasonable reader’ would understand the words complained of as ‘carrying those meanings’ or ‘any defamatory meanings’ of Harry.

Barrister Andrew Caldecott QC, who led Associated Newspapers’ legal team, told the judge the case was about “the reasonable reader who is believed to have read the article once”.

He said the text of the print and online versions of the “article” were “substantially identical”.

Mr Caldecott said that in terms of a “privacy issue”, the “article” laid out a “short sequence of events”.

“There is no trace of impropriety in any sensible reading of the article,” he said.

“The plaintiff is not presented as seeking to keep the whole action secret.”