Queen backed Harry’s bid for apology from Rupert Murdoch, High Court hears

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The late Queen backed the Duke of Sussex’s bid for an apology from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but his efforts were blocked by Charles’ staff, the High Court has heard.

Harry is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World, over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.

However, NGN is asking Mr Justice Fancourt to throw out his claim – along with a claim brought by actor Hugh Grant – arguing they have been brought too late.

While NGN has settled numerous hacking claims in relation to the News Of The World, the publisher denies illegal activity at The Sun.

In a witness statement made public on Tuesday, Harry described how in late 2017, he wanted to “push for a resolution” over alleged phone hacking and get an apology from News Corp owner Mr Murdoch before his wedding to the Duchess of Sussex.

However, he accused Clarence House of “seemingly blocking our every move” as part of a strategy to keep the media “onside in order to smooth the way for my stepmother, and father, to be accepted by the British public as Queen Consort and King respectively”.

In his written statement, Harry said he was angry about “appalling treatment” his wife had faced from Murdoch-owned newspapers and was “frustrated” about a lack of progress on his phone hacking allegations.

“I thought, naively perhaps, that this might prove the perfect opportunity to air our grievances and force a resolution to our phone hacking claims,” he said.

Harry said his brother, the Prince of Wales, was “very understanding and supportive and agreed that we needed to do it” and “suggested that I seek permission from ‘granny’” – the late Queen.

The duke continued: “I spoke to her shortly afterwards and said something along the lines of: ‘Are you happy for me to push this forward, do I have your permission?’ And she said: ‘Yes.’”

Harry said the Queen’s then-director of communications Sally Osman was then “given the green light to approach senior executives at NGN on behalf of the institution, Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, William and me, to broker a resolution and an apology from Mr Murdoch”.

Camilla and Charles
Harry said, with hindsight, he could see why Clarence House staff were not helpful (Ben Birchall/PA)

“I remember one senior palace staff member saying that there couldn’t be an apology to the Queen because she didn’t have a claim,” he continued.

The duke said that in March 2018, following “continued silence” from News International, the Queen allowed a further note to be sent to Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corporation and Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK.

In an email from Ms Osman describing the note, she said: “Her Majesty has approved the wording, which essentially says there is increasing frustration at their lack of response and engagement and, while we’ve tried to settle without involving lawyers, we will need to reconsider our stance unless we receive a viable proposal.”

However, Harry said he was told shortly before his and the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding that “nothing could be done” by Gerrard Tyrrell, who the duke later described as “the institution’s lawyer taking direction from Clarence House”.

He said: “Shortly before the wedding, we were informed by Gerrard Tyrrell that nothing could be done as NGN were not in a position to apologise to Her Majesty The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family at that stage on account of the fact that, if they did so, they would have to admit that not only was the News of the World involved in phone hacking but also The Sun, and that was something that they couldn’t afford to do until the end of the litigation because it would seriously undermine their settlement strategy across all the other claims.”

Harry said he understood this conversation took place between Charles’ communications secretary and Ms Brooks.

The duke continued: “With hindsight, I now understand why staff at Clarence House were being so unhelpful and were seemingly blocking our every move, as they had a specific long term strategy to keep the media, including NGN, onside in order to smooth the way for my stepmother, and father, to be accepted by the British public as Queen Consort, and King respectively, when the time came, and anything that might upset the applecart in this regard, including the suggestion of resolution of our phone hacking claims, was to be avoided at all costs.”

Anthony Hudson KC, for NGN, said that while communications show “discussions took place between the Palace and NGN in 2017-2018 about resolving outstanding issues relating to allegations of (voicemail interception), they do not provide any support for a suggestion that there was an agreement by which NGN would forgo its right to bring a limitation defence in response to any claims by members of the royal family”.

Harry also said that when he did start his claims against NGN and also Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) in October 2019 he was “summoned to Buckingham Palace and specifically told to drop the legal actions because they have an ‘effect on all the family’”.

The duke described this as “a direct request, or rather demand” from Charles, his private Secretary and the Queen’s private secretary”.

Describing going through Mr Tyrrell as a “no-go”, Harry said he instructed his own lawyers to bring a claim against NGN, telling the Queen, Charles and William of this while he was on tour in Africa.

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