The Duke of Sussex’s lawyers are to write to ministers pleading with them to release leaked files that could support claims he was the victim of phone hacking.
Prince Harry and six other celebrities have relied on documents Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), the publishers of the Daily Mail, submitted to the 2012 Leveson Inquiry to try to prove they were targeted by the newspaper’s journalists.
However, Mr Justice Nicklin, who is hearing their case, had ruled that they could not use leaked copies of confidential documents supplied to the now-concluded inquiry unless a “relevant minister” approved them being made public.
The Duke’s legal team had obtained the files, which included ledgers listing “payments to private investigators” and search agencies after they appeared on an online website six years ago.
But only Sir Brian Leveson, the retired judge who headed the inquiry into the media, or the minister now responsible for those stored files have the power to release them.
Documents submitted on Tuesday to the High Court in London reveal the Duke’s lawyers are planning to write to the “relevant minister” - understood to be either James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, or Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - to ask for the files to be officially handed to the lawyers.
In their skeleton arguments placed before the preliminary hearing, the claimants’ lawyers say that because Associated Newspapers refused to release the schedule of payments to them officially they would seek a “variation” of Mr Leveson’s original ruling that those ledgers should remain classified.
They add that by writing to the “relevant minister” and obtaining the files they could “avoid… the costly amendment procedure” of rewriting legal arguments which omitted any reference to what it claimed the Leveson ledgers show.
‘Acted tactically and cynically’
David Sherborne, representing the Duke, told the judge their “next step” was to write to ministers to seek a variation of rulings banning the release of the ANL ledgers.
The court was told by ANL that it had rejected a request to hand over the ledgers voluntarily and would oppose a bid to ask a minister for access to them.
Adrian Beltrami KC, for the publisher, said the ledgers had been given to the duke’s lawyers in breach of “clear obligations” of confidentiality, adding lawyers had “acted tactically and cynically in seeking to use such illegitimately obtained information to support their speculative claims”.
The Duke, Sir Elton John and his husband, David Furnish, 61, Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, the actresses Elizabeth Hurley, 58, and Sadie Frost, 58, and Sir Simon Hughes, 72, a former Liberal Democrat MP, claim they were victims of phone hacking, “blagging” and break-ins.
Associated Newspapers denies allegations that they had ever been involved in hacking. Case management hearings are due to resume next year.
Baroness Lawrence sat in the public gallery during the preliminary hearing. The Duke and Duchess did not attend. They were earlier this week photographed in Vancouver, Canada, at an ice hockey match.
Associated Newspapers had asked the judge in March to throw out their claims, arguing the legal challenges were brought “far too late”.
But the judge found the newspaper publisher had “not been able to deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to the claims” earlier this month.
In his 95-page-judgment, the judge said that each of the seven people had a “real prospect” of demonstrating that ANL concealed “relevant facts” that would have allowed them to bring a claim against the publisher earlier. As a result, the normal time limits to bring such a case are extended.