Harry to be at centre of phone hacking trial against tabloid publisher

The Duke of Sussex is one of a number of high-profile figures bringing damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers.
The Duke of Sussex is one of a number of high-profile figures bringing damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers. The Duke of Sussex is one of a number of high-profile figures bringing damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers.

The Duke of Sussex will be at the centre of a planned High Court trial against a tabloid newspaper publisher over phone hacking allegations, a judge has ruled.

Harry is one of a number of high-profile figures bringing damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.

Other celebrities involved in the case include the singer and former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, the estate of the late singer George Michael, ex-footballer and television presenter Ian Wright and actor Ricky Tomlinson.

The trial is due to begin on May 9 and last for six to seven weeks, and four or five “representative” claimants were selected as “test cases” at a hearing in London on Wednesday.

Mr Justice Fancourt ruled that the duke’s claim should be one of those tried, saying it was an “obvious selection” because his claim covers an extensive period of time and 24 private investigators.

The court heard earlier on Wednesday that the duke’s case is that 148 articles published between 1996 and 2010 included information that was allegedly obtained through unlawful means, including phone hacking.

Cheryl Cheryl (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The judge said the number of articles to be considered at trial should be reduced to about 33.

He said Harry’s case is also one which “will not settle”, on the basis of what he has read and heard in court, adding: “So it will have to be tried at some stage and might as well be tried now.”

David Sherborne, representing the claimants, said Harry would be the only witness in his claim.

The other claimants selected for trial are former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson, comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman and actor Michael Turner.

Nikki Sanderson
Nikki Sanderson Nikki Sanderson (Ian West/PA)

The judge said if both sides agree, model and actor Paul Sculfor’s claim could also be included at the trial.

He said ex-footballer and television presenter Ian Wright, Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson and Chris Tarrant’s ex-wife Ingrid Dupre will be reserve representative claims in the event one of the others settles before trial.

MGN is contesting the claims, arguing that some have been brought too late.

The publisher of titles including The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People, MGN has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to unlawful information gathering, as has News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the publisher of the now-defunct News Of The World and The Sun – in a separate ongoing legal action.

Copies of Spare
Copies of Spare The Duke of Sussex was scathing about the press in his recent autobiography (Aaron Chown/PA)

An earlier trial of representative claims, including those brought by former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost, was heard in 2015 and is the only trial which has taken place during the long-running litigation.

A raft of other cases have been settled since by both MGN and NGN. The phone-hacking scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World in 2011.

The Duke of Sussex is involved in other litigation against newspapers and is bringing two separate legal actions against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail, The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.

It was announced on Wednesday that a hearing in one of his claims, over The Mail On Sunday’s coverage of Harry’s judicial review against the Home Office about his security arrangements for his family when they are visiting the UK, is due to take place at the High Court on March 17.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright Former footballer Ian Wright (Zac Goodwin/PA)

The duke and ANL previously agreed to pause the case in order to conduct negotiations with a view to reaching a settlement until January 20.

The High Court heard in December last year that if no settlement could be agreed, the duke would ask the court to either strike out ANL’s defence or give summary judgment in his favour, avoiding the need for a trial.

A preliminary hearing in a separate legal action by Harry over alleged unlawful information gathering at ANL titles, which is being brought alongside other high-profile figures including Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John, has been set for March 27.

Harry has been outspoken in his criticism of the British press, most recently in his memoir Spare and in a number of television interviews.