Parts of an article in The Mail on Sunday about the Duke of Sussex’s legal claim against the Home Office were defamatory, a High Court judge has ruled.
The article alleged that the Duke had tried to keep his legal claim against the Home Office “secret”.
Prince Harry is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) after the paper ran a story following the first hearing in the Duke’s separate High Court claim over his security arrangements when he is in the UK.
The article, published in February, ran 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 hearing in June, Mr Justice Nicklin was asked to determine the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the parts of the article in the claim, and whether they were defamatory.
What did the judge say?
On Friday (8 July) the judge ruled that parts of the article in the claim were defamatory.
Mr Justice Nicklin said a reader would think Prince Harry “was responsible for public statements, issued on his behalf, which claimed that he was willing to pay for police protection in the UK, and that his legal challenge was to the government’s refusal to permit him to do so, whereas the true position, as revealed in documents filed in the legal proceedings, was that he had only made the offer to pay after the proceedings had commenced”.
The judge also said the article would have been read as alleging Prince Harry “was responsible for trying to mislead and confuse the public as to the true position, which was ironic given that he now held a public role in tackling ‘misinformation’”.
Mr Justice Nicklin added: “It may be possible to ‘spin’ facts in a way that does not mislead, but the allegation being made in the article was very much that the object was to mislead the public.
“That supplies the necessary element to make the meanings defamatory at common law.”
The senior judge also found that the article did not suggest that Prince Harry “was seeking to keep his ‘legal battle’ with the government secret”, though it was suggested by the headline if read alone.
He continued: “Read as a whole, the article was quite clear that he was seeking certain confidentiality restrictions in relation to ‘documents and witness statements’ in the proceedings, not blanket secrecy on the whole claim.”
He found that an ordinary reader would understand the article to mean that Harry “had initially sought confidentiality restrictions that were far-reaching and unjustifiably wide and were rightly challenged by the Home Office”.
The judgment only relates to the “objective meaning” of the article, Mr Justice Nicklin said, adding it is the first stage in the libel claim.