Britain's Prince Harry made a surprise visit to a London High Court hearing on Monday, appearing as a claimant in a privacy lawsuit against Associated Newspapers Limited.
The Duke of Sussex is one of a half-dozen high-profile figures who allege the newspaper publisher — which owns the Daily Mail, Mail Online and Mail on Sunday — used unlawful information-gathering tactics.
Singer Elton John and his partner, the filmmaker David Furnish, are plaintiffs in the case, as are actresses Sadie Frost and Elizabeth Hurley. A sixth plaintiff, Doreen Lawrence, is a member of Parliament whose son was killed in a racist attack.
None of the claimants are expected to speak during the four-day hearing, according to a press release from Hamlins, one of the law firms involved.
That made it a big surprise for local media to see the Duke seated next to his fellow claimant Frost in a back row of the courtroom, studiously taking notes in a black notebook.
This appears to be his first trip back to the United Kingdom since the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
The plaintiffs say ANL secretly accessed medical records, bank accounts and private conversations
Prince Harry and the others say they have "compelling and highly distressing evidence" that they fell victim to "abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy," according to a press release announcing the lawsuit.
They claim ANL:
- Hired investigators to place listening devices into homes and vehicles
- Paid police officials for access to sensitive information
- Impersonated individuals to obtain medical information from private clinics and treatment centers
- Illegally accessed bank accounts, credit histories and financial records
In a statement provided to NPR, ANL said it "categorically" denied the allegations and plans to defend itself if the trial moves forward after this week's hearing.
ANL is trying to get the case struck down before a trial
ANL is trying to strike down the case on two points: 1) that some of the events in question occurred before 2007, which makes it outside the statute of limitations and, 2) that the claimants themselves unlawfully obtained evidence against ANL, using material from a government report that was under a strict confidentiality ruling.
The publisher is also moving to disclose the names of specific journalists mentioned in the claims should the case move forward.
ANL lost a similar privacy case brought by Meghan Markle in 2021. The Duchess sued after the Daily Mail published parts of a private letter she wrote to her estranged father in 2018.
And Prince Harry is currently suing the ANL separately for defamation over a 2022 article about his security arrangements.
Prince Harry's security is the question of another lawsuit
The subject of that article sparked another lawsuit brought by the couple.
Britain's Home Office, which oversees the country's police forces, ruled in 2020 that Prince Harry's family would not be automatically given the "same degree" of royal security within the U.K. but would have protection assigned on a case-by-case basis. The Home Office also said it wouldn't allow Prince Harry to pay for his own police protection.
Harry's recent travel amid that pending litigation raises questions about his security in the country.
Prince Harry does not plan to visit with his brother, Prince William, or his father, the soon-to-be-coronated King Charles, during this trip, according to local media outlets.
The Duke revealed his controversial relationship to the two men in his memoir, Spare, which was published in January 2023.
Since bowing out of royal duties in 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan have settled in Montecito, Calif.,with their two children and slowly disclosed more and more about their experiences with the monarchy.
The pair cited media harassment and mistreatment as a major reason why they chose to leave the royal family after two years of marriage.