Queen Elizabeth II personally threatened Rupert Murdoch’s media company with legal proceedings over phone hacking only for her efforts to be undermined by the then Prince Charles, the high court has heard.
Prince Harry said his father intervened because he wanted to ensure the Sun supported his ascension to the throne and Camilla’s role as queen consort, and had a “specific long-term strategy to keep the media on side” for “when the time came”.
The Duke of Sussex made the claims on Tuesday as part of his ongoing legal action against News Group Newspapers. The legal case lays bare Harry’s allegations of the deals between senior members of the British royal family and tabloid newspapers.
The prince said his father, the king, had personally demanded he stop his legal cases against British newspaper outlets when they were filed in late 2019.
The court filings state: “I was summoned to Buckingham Palace and specifically told to drop the legal actions because they have an ‘effect on all the family’.” He added this was “a direct request (or rather demand) from my father” and senior royal aides.
Harry blamed tabloid press intrusion for collapses in his mental health, said journalists had destroyed many of his relationships with girlfriends, and said British tabloid journalists fuelled online trolls and drove people to suicide.
He said: “How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?”
The duke also suggested that press intrusion by the Sun and other newspapers led to his mother – Diana, Princess of Wales – choosing to travel without a police escort, ultimately leading to her death in 1997.
In 2017, Harry decided to seek an apology from Murdoch’s News UK for phone hacking, receiving the backing of Queen Elizabeth II and his brother. His submission said: “William was very understanding and supportive and agreed that we needed to do it. He therefore suggested that I seek permission from ‘granny’. 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.’”
Having received the support of Queen Elizabeth II, Harry said he asked the royal family’s lawyers to write to the Murdoch executives Rebekah Brooks and Robert Thomson and seek a resolution. Yet the company refused to apologise and, out of desperation, Harry discussed banning reporters from Murdoch-owned outlets from attending his wedding to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
In 2018, Sally Osman, Queen Elizabeth II’s communications secretary, wrote an email to Harry explaining that she was willing to threaten legal action in the name of the monarch.
The email read: “The queen has given her consent to send a further note, by email, to Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corporation and Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK.
“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, there was no apology, which Harry ascribes to a secret deal between the royal family and senior Murdoch executives to keep proceedings out of court. As part of the legal proceedings he alleged that his brother, Prince William, had secretly been paid a “huge sum of money” by Murdoch’s company in 2020 to settle a previously undisclosed phone-hacking claim.
Harry claimed that, shortly before his wedding, he was informed Murdoch’s company would not apologise to the queen and the rest of the royal family at that stage because “they would have to admit that not only was the News of the World involved in phone hacking but also the Sun”, which they “couldn’t afford to do” as it would undermine their continued denials that illegal activity took place at the Sun.
Murdoch’s company has always denied that any illegal behaviour took place at the Sun and that all phone hacking and illicit blagging of personal material was limited to its sister newspaper, the now-defunct News of the World.
Harry insists this is untrue and claims phone hacking was widespread at the Sun when it was edited by Brooks, now a senior Murdoch executive. He has said he is willing to go to trial in an attempt to prove this. Murdoch’s company denies any wrongdoing at the Sun, or that there was any secret deal between the newspaper group and the royal household over phone hacking.
The prince also said press intrusion into the life of his mother was “one of the reasons she insisted on not having any protection after the divorce” as she suspected those around her of selling stories to outlets such as the Sun. He claims: “If she’d had police protection with her in August 1997, she’d probably still be alive today. People who abuse their power like this need to face the consequences of their actions, otherwise it says that we can all behave like this.”
Harry now believes his father and royal courtiers were prioritising positive coverage of his father and Camilla in the Sun, rather than seeking to back his legal claims. He said: “[T]hey had a specific long-term strategy to keep the media (including [Sun publisher] 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 … 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.”
He said all of his girlfriends would find “they are not just in a relationship with me but with the entire tabloid press as a third party”, leading to bouts of depression and paranoia. He claimed the press was pushing him in the hope of “a total and very public breakdown”.
He made clear his personal loathing of Brooks, who was found not guilty of phone hacking by a jury in June 2014. He said: “Having met her once with my father when she was hosting the Sun military awards at the Imperial War Museum in London and having seen her essentially masquerading as someone that she wasn’t by using the military community to try and cover up all the appalling things that she and her newspapers had done, I felt this surprise at her acquittal even more personally, especially as I had been duped into thinking that she was OK at our meeting.”