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The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday, after the paper ran a story following a hearing in the Duke’s separate High Court claim over his security arrangements when he is in the UK.
An article ran in print and online under the headline: “Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over police bodyguards a secret ... then - just minutes after the story broke - his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.”
At a preliminary hearing at the High Court, Justin Rushbrooke QC, for the Duke, said the newspaper publisher had accused Harry of lying, spinning the story, and trying to keep the case a “secret”.
“From the opening paragraphs, the scene is set: the reader is being led to believe that (Harry) has been up to something improper, trying to hide it and then to ‘spin’ it, leading to ‘inaccurate reports across the media’ which misled the public”, said Mr Rushbrooke, in written arguments.
“There is no room for the reader to infer that this misleading of the public is anything other then deliberate, nor that (Harry’s) spin doctors and lawyers have been acting anything other then on the instructions of their principal.”
He said the article is “entirely one-sided” and presented as fact rather than comment, leaving readers “in absolutely no doubt that the Mail on Sunday has caught (Harry) out in an egregious lie”.
“Contrary to what he has previously claimed, he was not offering to ‘foot the bill’ for his police protection, but, as the Home Office documents show, he was expecting British taxpayers to fund it,” he argued on the meaning of the Mail on Sunday article.
“The damage is done. In the readers’ eyes, he has been revealed to be a lying spinning manipulator, willing to put out an ‘inaccurate version of events’ after his improper attempt to keep his case secret has failed.”
Harry is bringing his legal claim against the Home Office after being told he would no longer be given the same level of personal protective security when visiting from the US, now that he is not a working Royal.
He argues his private protection team in the US does not have adequate jurisdiction abroad or access to UK intelligence information which is needed to keep his family safe, and he has offered to pay for the added measures himself.
At the hearing in February, Robert Palmer QC, for the Home Office, said the Duke’s offer of private funding was "irrelevant" and that "personal protective security by the police is not available on a privately financed basis".
In argument for Associated Newspapers at the High Court on Thursday, Andrew Caldecott QC said there had been “no hint of impropriety on any sensible reading of the article”.
He said the Duke “is not portrayed as seeking to keep the whole (legal) action secret, nor is he portrayed as seeking to keep secret the basic nature of the relief sought”.
Mr Caldecott suggested Harry’s interpretation of the article “is awry in suggesting (it) imputes that he was trying to keep secret ‘the fact that he expected British taxpayers to pay for his police protection’.
“The article states in terms that in his witness statement the claimant did make an offer to pay. It ignores the fact that in legal proceedings, matters of this kind substantially turn on legal advice.”
The publisher argues “spin” is an everyday term for PR advisers, and Mr Rushbrooke invited the court to conclude that the article “does not accuse (Harry) of lying in his initial statement about offering to pay for his security.
“The article nowhere alleges that the Claimant authorised his PR team and legal advisers to brief in the specific terms criticised about what the claim was for. Indeed it tends to the suggest the contrary.
“The article does allege that the claimant’s PR team spun the story, or added a gloss unduly favourable to the claimant, which led to inaccurate reporting and confusion about the nature of the claim.
“It does not allege dishonesty against them.”
Mr Justice Nicklin oversaw the preliminary hearing to determine the "natural and ordinary" meaning of the parts of the article in the libel claim.
He said he will deliver a ruling on those preliminary issues at a later date.