Prince Harry has won the first phase of his libel claim in the High Court.
The Duke of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over an article published in the UK Mail On Sunday in February about a dispute over his family’s security arrangements.
High Court judge Mr Justice Nicklin ruled that parts of the story, which was published in hard copy and online, were defamatory, as he concluded they gave the reader the impression that Harry was intentionally attempting to mislead the public.
The piece was published under 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.”
It referred to his separate legal case against the Home Office over security arrangements when he and his family are in the UK.
In a written statement to last month’s preliminary hearing, Harry said it had caused him “substantial hurt, embarrassment and distress, which is continuing”.
At the hearing, Mr Justice Nicklin was asked to determine the “natural and ordinary” meaning of the parts of the article in question, to decide whether they were defamatory.
The Duke of Sussex’s lawyer Justin Rushbrooke said the article suggested he had “lied in his initial public statements,” by claiming to have always been willing to pay for police protection whilst in the UK.
The story suggested “he had only made such an offer recently, after his dispute had started and after his visit to the UK in June 2021.”
However, ANL stated that it was not defamatory as it contained “no hint of impropriety.”
The High Court ruling is the first stage of the libel claim – should the newspaper wish to continue the case, the next stage will be for them to file a defence.
Mr Justice Nicklin said, “I should reiterate that the decision made in this judgment is solely concerned with the objective meaning of the article published by the defendant for the purposes of the claimant’s defamation claim.”
“This is very much the first phase in a libel claim. The next step will be for the defendant to file a defence to the claim. It will be a matter for determination later in the proceedings whether the claim succeeds or fails, and if so on what basis.”
The latest ruling comes just a day after a court heard that Harry faced “significant tensions” with one of the Queen’s right-hand men, involved in downgrading his security.
Challenging the decision, Harry’s lawyer said he hadn’t been aware that Sir Edward Young, the Queen’s private secretary, played a role.
Shaeed Fatima QC said the decision was “materially prejudiced” as she claimed key information had been withheld.
The Duke of Sussex lost full protection after he and his wife Meghan Markle stepped down as senior working members of the Royal Family in March 2020.
Shortly afterwards, the couple moved to California, where they now reside with their children – Archie, 3, and Lilibet, 1.