Was there a secret deal between royal family and Murdoch’s media empire?

One of the sensational claims in Prince Harry’s legal case against News UK appears difficult to prove

Among the many extraordinary claims in Prince Harry’s legal case against News UK, one stands out: the allegation that there was a secret deal between Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group and the monarchy to stop members of the royal family suing over phone hacking.

The prince suggests that this arrangement was known about by his late grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William and leading courtiers. Harry claims that under the terms of this supposed deal, royal victims of phone hacking would receive a settlement and an apology when all the other phone-hacking cases had concluded.

The objective, he claims, was to ensure members of the royal family were kept out of the witness box and ensure there was no need for a public falling out with a powerful newspaper group that could write negative stories about the royal family.

Harry says the existence of this deal is one of the reasons he waited until 2019 to file legal proceedings against News Group Newspapers, the parent company of the Sun and the News of the World.

The problem is that Rupert Murdoch’s media company has denied such a deal exists and claims Harry simply missed a legal deadline to file his paperwork. It wants a judge to throw out the case before it goes to trial next year on the basis that the royal should have suspected he was potentially a victim at a much earlier time.

Harry has not provided any evidence of the alleged agreement, although if such a sensitive arrangement was made then it is possible that it was verbal rather than on paper.

Even Harry is unsure who told him about the supposed deal. According to legal filings, the royal was informed of the deal’s existence alongside his brother at some point in 2012. He says this was by the royal family’s solicitor Gerrard Tyrrell, of Harbottle & Lewis, or someone else from within the institution of the monarchy.

According to his legal filings, the deal between the royal household and “senior executives” at Murdoch’s company would ensure members of the royal family could only bring phone-hacking claims at the conclusion of ongoing phone-hacking cases, and “at that stage the claims would be admitted or settled with an apology”.

Harry’s barrister, David Sherborne, said in written submissions that “discussions and authorisation” from the royal family over the agreement included the late queen and two of her private secretaries, as well as private secretaries for William and Harry.

Harry says he received the support of the queen and her aides when he attempted to push back on the supposed deal in 2017, only to struggle and be repeatedly frustrated by courtiers close to his father, Charles.

Harry claims Murdoch’s company tried to avoid keeping to its part of the supposed deal and issuing a public apology. “I suspect [Murdoch’s newspaper group] was banking on the public becoming bored of phone hacking after so many years and therefore, when it came to the end of the litigation whenever that would be, any apologies that it was forced to give wouldn’t really be newsworthy,” he said in his statement.

However, Anthony Hudson KC, for News Group Newspapers, told the court on Tuesday that there was no evidence of a secret deal and that Harry was asserting the existence of the supposed arrangement as a last-minute legal tactic.

“This delay is matched by the extreme vagueness with which the circumstances of the secret agreement are described in the Duke of Sussex’s evidence,” he said.

The barrister pointed out that Harry did not say in his evidence who had made the agreement, whom it applied to, when it was made, or a date when it was meant to expire. A list of lawyers who had worked in high-profile jobs at Murdoch’s company all insisted they had never heard of such a deal.

Yet the court did hear that at least one member of the royal family had been able to strike a secret deal with Murdoch’s company.

Harry revealed that Prince William had settled his own, not previously publicised phone-hacking claim against Murdoch’s company “for a huge sum of money” in 2020.

Harry asks how his brother’s deal was reached “without any of the public being told”. He suggests William reached a “favourable deal in return for him going ‘quietly’, so to speak”.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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