By Jill Lawless
Lawyers for Prince Harry asked a judge Friday to rule that a tabloid newspaper libeled the British royal with an article about his quest for police protection when he and his family visit the U.K.
Harry is suing Mail on Sunday publisher Associated Newspapers Ltd. over an article alleging he tried to hush up his separate legal challenge over the British government's refusal to let him pay for police security.
During a hearing at the High Court in London, Harry’s lead attorney asked Judge Matthew Nickin either to strike out the publisher’s defense or to deliver a summary judgment, which would be a ruling in the prince’s favor without going to trial.
Lawyer Justin Rushbrooke said the facts did not support the publisher’s “substantive pleaded defense” that the article expressed an “honest opinion.”
He said the article was “fundamentally inaccurate.”
Harry was not in court for the hearing. The prince, also known as the Duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan, lost their publicly funded U.K. police protection when they stepped down as senior working royals and moved to North America in 2020.
Harry’s lawyers have said the prince is reluctant to bring the couple’s children — Prince Archie, who is almost 4, and Princess Lilibet, nearly 2 — to his homeland because it is not safe.
The 38-year-old prince wants to pay personally for police security when he comes to Britain, but the government said that wasn't possible. Last year, a judge gave Harry permission to sue the government. That case has yet to come to trial.
Harry sued Associated Newspapers over a February 2022 Mail on Sunday article headlined “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.”
Harry claims that the newspaper libeled him when it suggested that the prince lied in his initial public statements about the suit against the government.
In July, Nicklin ruled that the article was defamatory, allowing the case to proceed. The judge has not yet considered issues such as whether the story was accurate or in the public interest.
The publisher’s lawyer, Andrew Caldecott, said the argument by Harry's attorneys amounted to "straitjacketing the newspaper’s right to comment.”
He said it was vital the media speak truth to power, and “speaking opinion to power is every bit (as), if not more, important,” as long as the opinion is based on facts.
At the end of the daylong hearing, the judge said he would rule at a later date.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, and the former actress Meghan Markle married at Windsor Castle in 2018 but stepped down as working royals in 2020, citing what they described as the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.
Harry’s fury at the U.K. press runs through his memoir “Spare, ” published in January. He blames an overly aggressive press for the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana, and also accuses the media of hounding Meghan.
The couple has not hesitated to use the British courts to hit back at what they see as media mistreatment. In December 2021, Meghan won an invasion-of-privacy case against Associated Newspapers over the Mail on Sunday’s publication of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
Harry is also among celebrities suing Associated Newspapers over alleged phone hacking, and he has launched a separate hacking suit against the publisher of another tabloid, the Mirror.