News article at center of Duke of Sussex libel battle ‘was defamatory’, High Court judge says
A newspaper article accusing Prince Harry of attempting to ‘mislead and confuse’ the public about his security arrangements was defamatory, a High Court judge has ruled.
The Duke of Sussex is suing The Mail on Sunday publisher – Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) – over an article about his legal battle with the Home Office over his UK security details.
The article was published in February under the title: “Exclusive: How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government secret over police bodyguards… then – just minutes after the story erupted – his public relations machine tried to put a positive spin on the conflict.”
After a preliminary hearing in the case, Judge Nicklin has now delivered his verdict on the article’s meaning to the ordinary reader – the first step in a libel battle.
He concluded that the Mail on Sunday article had suggested that Harry “originally sought privacy restrictions of far-reaching and unjustifiable scale and were rightly challenged by the Home Office for reasons of transparency and open justice”.
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The judge said the article went on to suggest that the Duke, in public statements about his offer to pay for his own safety, “was responsible for attempting to mislead and confuse the public as to the true position, which was ironic given that he now held a public role in the fight against “misinformation”.
The judge concluded that the meaning of the news article was defamatory, as readers would be led to believe that the Duke’s alleged actions of ‘seeking unwarranted confidentiality restrictions on court proceedings’ were ‘discreditable or worthy of criticism “.
He concluded that the allegation that Harry had tried to “misrepresent” the facts of the court case, and therefore “mislead” the public, was also defamatory.
ANL’s lawyers had argued the article was not defamatory, with Andrew Caldecott QC telling the High Court: ‘The article alleges that the plaintiff’s PR team twisted the story or added a gloss unduly favorable to the plaintiff, leading to inaccurate reporting and confusion. on the nature of the complaint.
“He does not allege dishonesty against them.”
The libel battle will now move to the next stage, when the newspaper’s publisher must file a defense against the Duke’s legal claim.