Prince Harry makes surprise appearance at High Court for phone-tapping and privacy case

Prince Harry has made a surprise appearance at the High Court in London as legal proceedings began in a phone-tapping and privacy case involving Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).

It is believed to be the first time the Duke of Sussex has been back in the UK since the funeral last September of his grandmother, the Queen.

The 38-year-old prince is among a group of seven high-profile claimants including singer Sir Elton John and his husband filmmaker David Furnish, actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Liberal Democrat politician Sir Simon Hughes. They are all making accusations against the publisher of the Daily Mail newspaper.

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They allege they have been victims of "abhorrent criminal activity" and "gross breaches of privacy" by Associated Newspapers - and announced in October they were bringing claims for misuse of private information against ANL, also the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.

The alleged unlawful acts, said to have taken place from 1993 to 2011, included hiring private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes, the recording of private phone conversations, accessing bank accounts through illicit means and paying police officials for inside information.

ANL denies the claims and said they should be dismissed without a trial.

A preliminary High Court hearing starting today will consider legal arguments, and a judge will decide whether it will go any further.

Prince Harry sat towards the back of the courtroom, occasionally writing in a small black notebook.

Sir Elton and Frost were also in court for Monday's proceedings - the start of a four-day hearing.

What is Sir Elton John alleging?

Sir Elton and Furnish's landline at their Windsor home was tapped by a private investigator on ANL's instructions, the court was told.

Documents filed on the couple's behalf also alleged Sir Elton's personal assistant and the couple's gardener were targeted as well.

Lawyer David Sherborne, for the celebrity pair, said in the written submission: "The claimants are outraged that Associated engaged in these unlawful and illicit acts in order to publish unlawful articles about them.

"They are also mortified to consider all their conversations, some of which were very personal indeed, were tapped, taped, packaged and consumed as a commercial product for journalists and unknown others to pick over, regardless of whether or not they were published."

The High Court also heard Sir Elton and Furnish had not seen a copy of their first child's birth certificate before it was allegedly unlawfully obtained by ANL.

Mr Sherborne continued: "They were heartbroken by the derogatory headline that Associated attached to it, clearly calculated to profit and generate public sensation about an event that they had so carefully guarded to keep precious."

What is Baroness Lawrence alleging?

Baroness Doreen Lawrence believes the murder of her son Stephen in Eltham, southeast London, in 1993 was "exploited" by ANL, the court heard.

Her barrister Mr Sherborne said she "feels anger, shock and upset".

He said: "Most of all, however, she feels a deep sense of betrayal.

"She finds it hard to believe the level of duplicity and manipulation that was clearly at play, knowing now as she does that the Daily Mail's outward support for her fight to bring Stephen's killers to justice was hollow and, worse, entirely false.

"The claimant now sees that the Daily Mail's true interests were about self-promotion and using her and her son's murder as a means to generate 'exclusive' headlines, sell newspapers, and to profit."

Harry not expected to see other Royal Family members

Prince Harry's return to the UK comes amid tensions with Buckingham Palace over bombshell disclosures made in his controversial memoir, Spare, in which he laid bare his troubled relationship with his father, King Charles, and brother William, the Prince of Wales.

Harry is not expected to be seeing his family. Buckingham Palace has said the King is not in Windsor or London and will be leaving for a state visit to Germany on Wednesday.

The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis are away for the Easter school holidays.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have reportedly been invited to the King's coronation on 6 May - which falls on their son Archie's fourth birthday.

But it is not yet known if they will attend after being asked to "vacate" Frogmore Cottage, their UK home, which was gifted to the couple by the Queen.

ANL says allegations 'stale'

Lawyers representing ANL told the hearing, before Mr Justice Nicklin, the privacy claims are "stale" and should be dismissed without trial.

Adrian Beltrami KC, in written submissions, argued that the legal actions have been brought too late.

Quoting from Harry's letter of claim, he continued: "Indeed, the Duke was aware throughout this period of the intense interest in his life shown by the media and by Associated, of 'strange things happening around his phone communications', of 'unexplained disclosures of private information' in Associated's publications and of journalists from Associated 'regularly turning up at different locations which you would never expect them to, including South Africa... despite the extreme lengths my security team and I went to in order to protect my security and privacy'."

ANL has previously described the accusations as "preposterous smears" and a "pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal".

A spokesperson for the publisher has also said the allegations are "unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence".

Who else is Prince Harry taking to court?

It is the latest of several cases brought against the tabloid press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex over the last few years, and this is just one of several cases Prince Harry is involved in.

The duke has an ongoing libel case against Associated Newspapers over an article about his security arrangements in the Mail on Sunday - which the paper says was based on "honest opinion".

In May, his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, over accusations of phone hacking between 1996 and 2011, will go to trial.

He is also suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publisher of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun newspapers (as well as the now-defunct News of the World) for alleged phone hacking.

The Sun has always denied phone hacking took place at the paper, and the publisher has not admitted any unlawful conduct at the title.