Prince Harry could give evidence against newspaper publisher in phone hacking trial

Prince Harry  (PA Archive)
Prince Harry (PA Archive)

Prince Harry’s legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mirror newspaper over allegations of phone hacking will go to trial in May, a judge at London’s High Court ruled on Wednesday.

The Duke of Sussex is one of several public figures whose lawsuits against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) will be considered at a trial due to begin in May.

Judge Timothy Fancourt ruled on Wednesday that Harry’s case, which alleges unlawful information gathering on behalf of MGN journalists between 1996 and 2011, should be part of the trial.

David Sherborne, a lawyer representing Harry and the other claimants, earlier told the court that Harry would be “the only witness” relied upon in his case – raising the prospect of the prince entering the witness box to give evidence.

Other celebrities involved in the case include singer and former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, the estate of the late singer George Michael, ex-footballer and television presenter Ian Wright and actor Ricky Tomlinson.

Former Girls Aloud start Cheryl (Getty Images)
Former Girls Aloud start Cheryl (Getty Images)

The trial is due to begin on May 9 and last for six to seven weeks, and four or five “representative” claimants were selected as “test cases” at a hearing in London on Wednesday.

Mr Justice Fancourt ruled the duke’s claim should be one of those tried, saying it was an “obvious selection” because his claim covers an extensive period of time and 24 private investigators.

The court heard earlier on Wednesday the duke’s case is that 148 articles published between 1996 and 2010 included information allegedly obtained through unlawful means, including phone hacking.

The judge said the number of articles to be considered at trial should be reduced to about 33.

He said Harry’s case is also one which “will not settle”, on the basis of what he has read and heard in court, adding: “So it will have to be tried at some stage and might as well be tried now.”

The other claimants selected for trial are former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson, comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman and actor Michael Turner.

Actress Nikki Sanderson leaving an earlier hearing at the Rolls Building in central London (PA/Yui Mok) (PA Wire)
Actress Nikki Sanderson leaving an earlier hearing at the Rolls Building in central London (PA/Yui Mok) (PA Wire)

The judge said if both sides agree, model and actor Paul Sculfor’s claim could also be included at the trial.

He said Wright, Tomlinson and Chris Tarrant’s ex-wife Ingrid Dupre will be reserve representative claims in the event one of the others settles before trial.

MGN is contesting the claims, arguing some have been brought too late.

The publisher of titles including The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People, MGN has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to unlawful information gathering, as has News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the publisher of the now-defunct News Of The World and The Sun – in a separate ongoing legal action.

An earlier trial of representative claims, including those brought by former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost, was heard in 2015 and is the only trial which has taken place during the long-running litigation.

A raft of other cases have been settled since by both MGN and NGN. The phone-hacking scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World in 2011.

The Duke of Sussex is involved in other litigation against newspapers and is bringing two separate legal actions against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail, The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.

It was announced on Wednesday a hearing in one of his claims, over The Mail On Sunday’s coverage of Harry’s judicial review against the Home Office about his security arrangements for his family when they are visiting the UK, is due to take place at the High Court on March 17.

The duke and ANL previously agreed to pause the case in order to conduct negotiations with a view to reaching a settlement until January 20.

The High Court heard in December last year that if no settlement could be agreed, the duke would ask the court to either strike out ANL’s defence or give summary judgment in his favour, avoiding the need for a trial.

A preliminary hearing in a separate legal action by Harry over alleged unlawful information gathering at ANL titles, which is being brought alongside other high-profile figures including Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John, has been set for March 27.

Harry has been outspoken in his criticism of the British press, most recently in his memoir Spare and in a number of television interviews.