The Duke of Sussex has arrived at the High Court in London for a hearing in his claim against Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers over allegations of unlawful information-gathering.
The publisher is bringing a bid to end High Court claims brought by people including Harry, Sir Elton John and Baroness Doreen Lawrence over alleged unlawful activity at its titles.
The group of high-profile individuals, also including Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish and actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, announced in October they were bringing claims for misuse of private information against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
Their lawyers said at that time the group have “become aware of compelling and highly distressing evidence that they have been the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by ANL, which is also the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.
In a statement announcing the launch of the legal action, released by Hamlins law firm, it was alleged the unlawful acts included hiring private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes and the recording of private phone conversations.
The publisher hit back at the allegations, describing them at the time as “preposterous smears” and a “pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal”.
A spokesperson for ANL also said the allegations were “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence”.
A four-day preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London began on Monday and is set to include ANL’s bid for the claims to be dismissed without a trial.
The duke sat towards the back of the courtroom, occasionally taking notes in a small black notebook.
Monday’s appearance is believed to be the first time Harry has been back in the UK since the late Queen’s funeral in September.
His surprise return comes nearly three months after he laid bare his troubled relationship with his father the King and brother the Prince of Wales in his controversial autobiography Spare.
David Sherborne, for the group of high-profile individuals, said the unlawful acts in the claim include commissioning the “breaking and entry into private property”, illegally intercepting voicemail messages, listening to live landline calls and obtaining medical records.
He said in written submissions: “The claimants each claim that in different ways they were the victim of numerous unlawful acts carried out by the defendant, or by those acting on the instructions of its newspapers, The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday.”
“They range through a period from 1993 to 2011, even continuing beyond until 2018,” the barrister added.
ANL’s lawyers have said privacy claims brought by seven high-profile individuals including the Duke of Sussex and Baroness Lawrence should be dismissed without a trial.
Adrian Beltrami KC, in written submissions, argued the legal actions have been brought too late and are “stale”.
The barrister said the individuals have to prove they did not know earlier, or could not have discovered earlier, they might have had a claim against ANL for alleged misuse of their private information.
Mr Beltrami said that more than a decade after the Leveson Inquiry and several criminal and civil proceedings over phone hacking, “it would be surprising indeed for any reasonably informed member of the public, let alone a figure in the public eye, to have been unaware of these matters”.
He continued: “The claimants have failed to show that they have a real prospect of discharging their burden at trial and the court should not hesitate to dismiss these stale claims at an early stage, thereby avoiding what would otherwise be a considerable waste of time, costs and the court’s resources.”
The hearing before Mr Justice Nicklin is due to conclude on Thursday.