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by Mick the Ram
Following on from the Duke of Sussex failing to get the Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) libel defence thrown out for his case against them, the Prince has now been ordered to pay legal costs incurred by The Mail on Sunday (TMOS) which amount to just short of £50,000.
Harry is suing the owners of the paper for what he says was their inference back in February 2022 that he had “lied” and “cynically” attempted to manipulate public opinion with regards to his UK security arrangements after he stepped away from working life within the royal family.
His lawyers had demanded the Daily Mail’s publisher voluntarily handed over its records of payments to private investigators, but the judge – Mr Justice Matthew Nicklin, said ANL’s honest opinion defence had “a real prospect of success and should be allowed to go forward to trial”.
The Prince is the highest profile of seven claimants who are taking the case to court, with a trial date expected to be announced soon, which will be sometime between May and July next year.
Deception just one of many claims
The articles in question was said by Prince Harry to be “fundamentally inaccurate” and he insisted that it “defamed him” and claims that hostility toward him and his wife on social media and relentless hounding by the news media threaten their safety as a result of the written material.
He is accusing the newspaper group of deception, phone hacking or hiring private investigators, to try to dig up dirt on him. He denies the suggestion that the he only offered to pay for his security AFTER starting legal proceedings in 2021, saying he had made an offer at a meeting in Sandringham the previous year.
TMOS defend their position
TMOS had reported that the Duke’s advisers had briefed journalists that he launched the legal action after he offered to pay for police protection for him and his family when they were in Britain, but that the offer was refused.
The article’s theme was that no such offer had been made to the Home Office, nor the Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures, known as Ravec, until a considerable time later and that Harry’s “spin doctors” had tried to influence coverage of the story.
They say its article expressed an honest opinion and did not cause “serious harm” to his reputation.
Judge prepared to listen to argument
The judge however, felt that the article reflected an “honest opinion” and wasn’t therefore “libelous”. He added: “The defendant may well submit that this was a masterclass in the art of ‘spinning.”
In his judgement, Mr Justice Nicklin said: “The defendant (ANL) has a real prospect, at trial, of demonstrating that the Duke of Sussex had not made an offer to the Government to pay for his security BEFORE he began his proceedings for judicial review.”
The publisher can use the honest opinion defence, which gives protection to individuals or organisations from being held liable for defamation in cases where statements are made as opinions rather than false statements of fact.
Six other high profile claimants
The other six claimants are: Sir Elton John, his husband David Furnish, Baroness Lawrence, the actor Sadie Frost, the former model Elizabeth Hurley and Sir Simon Hughes, a former Liberal Democrat MP.
They say there are confidential records detailing hundreds of payments signed off by journalists at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday to private investigators, some of whom, it is alleged, were linked to unlawful information gathering.
They claim the investigators bugged cars and phones, illegally accessed mobile phone voicemails, paid police officials, and obtained private medical and financial records.
Must be paid before end of year
The £48,447 in legal fees must be paid by 29 December. The trial will be fixed in the new year to be held over three to four days sometime between 17 May and 31 July.