Hacking and house-hunting: High Court issues rulings against Sheikh Mohammed

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The ruler of Dubai has been banned from buying a £30 million estate directly overlooking his ex-wife’s home, the High Court has ruled in one of many findings published on Wednesday.

Eleven High Court and Court of Appeal judgments were released in proceedings between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 72, and his former wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, 47.

The PA news agency looks at some of the key points of the rulings.

– Hacking

In one of the largest judgments, the High Court found that Sheikh Mohammed gave his “express or implied authority” for Princess Haya’s phone to be infiltrated with Pegasus spyware during the ongoing legal case.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum court case
Princess Haya said she felt she was being watched (Aaron Chown/PA)

The court heard that there were “no fewer than 11 occasions” where data was downloaded and then uploaded between Princess Haya’s phone and IP addresses attributed to Pegasus, indicating a hack.

Sir Andrew McFarlane – the most senior family judge in England and Wales – found that one of Princess Haya’s security worker’s phone had been the subject “of at least an attempt at hacking” as early as November 2019.

He later added: “It would be highly likely that he now had access to sensitive and confidential information, including in relation to the mother’s security arrangements.”

Princess Haya had asked for a finding that the phone hacking took place “during the course of the proceedings at significant events”.

However, Sir Andrew heard the software was “to a degree opportunistic”.

He said: “I do not, therefore, consider that the date of the hacking arises from the fact that there was something of interest in July to gain information about in this case; rather the opening up of an exploitative window gave the operators the chance to do so which they plainly took.”

Sheikh Mohammed denied and continues to deny any knowledge of the hacking.

– The Berkshire house

In addition to fact-finding about the hacking allegations, the High Court banned Sheikh Mohammed from approaching one of Princess Haya’s homes in one of the judgments published on Wednesday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum court case
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum saw the court rule against him (Simon Cooper/PA)

In a judgment written in December, Sir Andrew extended a non-molestation order for Princess Haya after finding that Sheikh Mohammed or his agents had attempted to purchase a 77-acre estate directly overlooking her home in Berkshire.

In the autumn of 2020, Princess Haya was informed that people acting on behalf of the Sheikh were in the process of purchasing the Parkwood estate, which is valued at around £30 million and overlooks her home, Castlewood House.

Princess Haya told the court: “It feels as if I am being stalked… It is hugely oppressive. To know that a property was being purchased just minutes away for the benefit of (the father) and which overlooks Castlewood is just completely overwhelming.

“I simply will not feel safe, even in our own garden, wondering whether someone is in residence, and whether they are watching.”

Sheikh Mohammed is a notable figure in the horse racing industry having founded the successful Godolphin thoroughbred racing team.

He can often be seen at Ascot, with the famous racetrack only a few kilometres away from Princess Haya’s property.

In the judgment, Sir Andrew found that while there was no evidence that Sheikh Mohammed or anyone on his behalf had been in close proximity to Princess Haya’s Berkshire home, an exclusion order was still justified due to the risk to their two children.

He said: “The father is an individual of immense wealth, political power and international influence… The findings with respect to the abduction of two of his adult daughters, one from England and one in international waters off the coast of India, demonstrate his ability to act and to do so irrespective of domestic criminal law.”

Granting a 100-metre exclusion zone around the property and a 1,000ft high no-fly zone, the judge added: “In circumstances when it takes but a moment to snatch a child from a garden or a country lane, the ability to undertake close covert surveillance so that a would-be abductor can know or predict the precise whereabouts of the child and any security detail would be most valuable.”

Those acting on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed later pulled out of the sale of the estate.

Role of Cherie Blair and Baroness Shackleton

Cherie Blair, the wife of the former prime minister Tony Blair, helped bring the hacking to the attention of Princess Haya, the court heard.

Mrs Blair, an adviser to the Israel-based NSO Group, was contacted “at nearly midnight Israeli time” in August 2020 to inform her Princess Haya and her solicitor Baroness Shackleton may have been hacked by “misused” software.

Mrs Blair told the court: “I was told by the NSO senior manager that it had come to the attention of NSO that their software may have been misused to monitor the mobile phone of Baroness Shackleton and her client, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya.

“The NSO senior manager told me that NSO were very concerned about this and asked me to contact Baroness Shackleton urgently so that she could notify Princess Haya.”

As a result of this, on October 5 2020, Baroness Shackleton, whose previous clients have included Sir Paul McCartney, the Prince of Wales, Madonna and Liam Gallagher, told the House of Lords that she had been a victim of phone hacking.

She said: “The reason I stand here tonight and am not being hooked up from home is because I am, as I have advised Black Rod, a victim of being hacked through my telephone.

“My parliamentary email, my own email, my WhatsApp messages, my pictures and my texts are all visible to somebody else.”

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