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Now it’s personal: Harry and other claimants want lawsuit to directly target Murdoch

Lawyers for Prince Harry and other claimants are seeking to amend their London lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom to allege the media magnate was personally involved in a cover-up of wrongdoing.

Mar 21, 2024, updated Mar 21, 2024
Prince Harry and other claimants want to change their lawsuit to directly target Rupert Murdoch. (Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Prince Harry and other claimants want to change their lawsuit to directly target Rupert Murdoch. (Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Harry and more than 40 others are suing News Group Newspapers (NGN) over accusations of unlawful invasions of privacy by its tabloids, the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, from the mid-1990s until 2016.

The other claimants include film director Guy Ritchie, actor Hugh Grant, several former senior politicians and campaigner Doreen Lawrence – who, along with Harry, is part of a separate lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily Mail.

The case against NGN is due to go to a trial, lasting up to eight weeks, beginning in January.

Lawyers for the claimants on Wednesday asked Judge Timothy Fancourt for permission to add new allegations to their case against NGN, including that senior executives gave misleading evidence to parliament and a public inquiry.

They allege Murdoch, 93, gave “knowingly false” evidence and that Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News UK, News Corp’s newspaper arm in the country, “lied and/or gave deliberately misleading evidence” at her criminal trial in 2014.

The claimants also named Will Lewis, a former News International executive and now publisher of the Washington Post, as being involved in the alleged cover-up.

An NGN spokesperson said the claimants had made the allegations against current and former NGN staff “in a scurrilous and cynical attack on their integrity”.

“These allegations have nothing to do with seeking compensation for victims of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering and should be viewed with considerable caution,” the spokesperson added.

NGN’s lawyers said the new allegations, introducing 200 new journalists, executives and private investigators, were unnecessary, disproportionate and irrelevant.

“It has become increasingly clear that at least some members of the claimant group appear to be using this document as a vehicle for wider campaigning interests against the tabloid press,” Anthony Hudson, NGN’s lawyer, told the court.

Hudson said in court filings that allegations in relation to Brooks and others effectively required NGN “to enter into the re-running of criminal trials or an inquiry into an inquiry”.

In 2011, NGN apologised for widespread phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World, which the Australian-born Murdoch shut down amid a backlash.

NGN has since settled more than 1300 claims but the group has always rejected allegations of any wrongdoing by staff at the Sun.

Brooks, a former Sun editor, was found not guilty of hacking and other crimes following an eight-month trial in 2014.

David Sherborne, the lawyer for Harry and the other claimants, told the court both Murdoch and Brooks had known NGN’s original statement that just “one rogue reporter” was involved in unlawful information-gathering was false.

They and other executives were “dishonest in making these statements since they knew them to be false at the time they were made,” the new allegations said.

NGN’s Hudson said the amended claims were based on “ancient documents” and in previous versions, Murdoch was only referred to in passing with “no allegations against him”.

The claimants’ lawyers also said they wanted to include evidence from a former IT engineer that Brooks’ computer hard drive was hidden away and possibly deliberately destroyed in 2011 to hide her knowledge of wrongdoing.

The court will hear Harry’s application to amend his individual case over the next two days, and a ruling on whether the new allegations can be included is expected at a later date.

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