NGN unlawfully obtained private information on Harry from age nine, court told

The Duke of Sussex experienced “overwhelming intrusion” into his private life from the age of nine thanks to unlawful activity by the publisher of the defunct News Of The World, the High Court has heard.

Harry is suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) over “a number of unlawful acts” allegedly carried out by its publications, the News Of The World and The Sun, spanning three decades.

The duke, 39, is one of several high-profile figures taking legal action against the publisher over claims of unlawful information gathering, including the use of private investigators.

The company denies the accusations, with a trial scheduled for January next year.

Harry’s barristers have previously told the court that NGN unlawfully gathered information on him from 1996 to 2011, which included details of interactions with his family and the relationship with his former partner, Chelsy Davy.

But in court documents for a hearing on Thursday, lawyer David Sherborne said that several further Sun and News Of The World articles dating from 1994 to 2016 showed evidence of unlawful activity.

The Duke of Sussex’s barrister, David Sherborne (Lucy North/PA)
The Duke of Sussex’s barrister, David Sherborne (Lucy North/PA)

It was claimed that some of these came from NGN unlawfully intercepting phone calls of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Charles when he was the Prince of Wales and his now-wife Camilla Parker Bowles.

This had “the inevitable and/or intended consequence” of revealing private information about Harry, the court was told.

Mr Sherborne told the hearing in London’s Rolls Building that one article which was the product of unlawful activity, published when the duke was aged 10, contained “information relating to his welfare, his relationship with his mother, Princess Diana, behind the scenes, and her state of mind”.

The activity was said to be “known about, encouraged and concealed by those in positions of responsibility” at NGN, including former News Of The World editor Piers Morgan.

It allegedly continued until 2016, when two articles were published about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the start of their relationship.

Two articles allegedly the result of unlawful information gathering concerned the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the start of their relationship (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Two articles allegedly the result of unlawful information gathering concerned the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the start of their relationship (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Mr Sherborne said in court: “What is said is that in 2016, the defendant instructed one of its regular private investigators in the United States.

“What we say he did was obtain private information in the form of a report … about the Duke of Sussex’s then-new girlfriend, Meghan Markle, in order to obtain new information about their relationship, for the purpose of publication in The Sun.”

The report allegedly included the duchess’s mobile number and social security number, which was unlawfully obtained “in the full knowledge” of NGN, the court was told.

Barristers for Harry and the other individuals have applied to the High Court to add the new information to the duke’s legal challenge, and to update parts of the individuals’ case.

Mr Justice Fancourt previously told Harry that he could not pursue claims of phone hacking by NGN but could continue his case concerning unlawful information gathering.

The duke was also told he could not rely on an alleged “secret agreement” between the royal family and senior executives working for Rupert Murdoch as part of his case.

But Mr Sherborne said on Thursday that evidence of phone hacking remained “plainly probative” of unlawful information gathering by other means, which was the “modus operandi of how these journalists work”.

Barristers for NGN have previously told the court that updating the case is “wholly unnecessary” and “positively undesirable”, describing the new information as “designed to grab headlines”.

The hearing is being held at the Rolls Building in London (Nick Ansell/PA)
The hearing is being held at the Rolls Building in London (Nick Ansell/PA)

In written submissions, Anthony Hudson KC, representing the publisher, said the duke’s updated case was “wholly different in nature to the claims currently made”.

He said the new set of allegations “lacks any proper particulars of the elementary matters required to be pleaded, namely the information allegedly obtained by NGN, the means by which that information was allegedly obtained, by whom and when, and the basis on which such obtaining constituted a misuse of the claimant’s private information or a breach of his confidence”.

He continued: “NGN would have to engage in extensive investigations of entirely new allegations concerning new time periods and different individuals, journalists, information, alleged acts, forms of wrongdoing and/or causes of actions.”

A spokesperson for the company said on Wednesday that it had made an “unreserved apology” in 2011 to victims of phone hacking at the News Of The World and has since been paying damages to those who were the victims of wrongdoing.

They said that it had also paid damages in cases against The Sun where there were “good commercial reasons”, without accepting liability.

But they said that the updated claims were a “scurrilous and cynical attack” on current and former staff which should be “viewed with considerable caution”.

They said: “The attempt to add the amendments now has nothing to do with seeking compensation for victims of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering.”

“They are irrelevant to the fair and just determination of claims.”

Mr Justice Fancourt is expected to rule on whether new information can be included at a later date, following the conclusion of the hearing on Friday.