Duke of Sussex claim may be one of ‘test cases’ in tabloid hacking trial

The Duke of Sussex’s claim against a tabloid newspaper publisher over alleged piracy could be one of the central cases in a planned High Court trial later this year.

Harry is one of a number of high-profile figures to bring damages claims against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for alleged illegal collection of information in its titles.

Other celebrities involved in the case include singer and former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, the estate of the late singer George Michael, former footballer and TV presenter Ian Wright and actor Ricky Tomlinson.

Mr Justice Fancourt is considering what the scope of a planned six-to-seven-week trial, starting in May, will be at a hearing in London on Wednesday – including which claimants should be selected as “test cases”.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers suggest that Harry and Cheryl’s cases are “representative” claims and should be among those selected for trial.

David Sherborne, representing the claimants, told the court that Harry’s claim “covers the largest number of private investigators”, with 25 of the main private investigators alleged to have been involved in illegal activity in the overall case.

The judge was told lawyers had identified 148 articles published about Harry between 1996 and 2010 which allegedly used information obtained by illegal means – such as phone hacking – which have been narrowed down to a sample of 50 and may be reduced further.

Mr Sherborne said Harry would be the only witness in his claim if the judge approved it as one of the small “sample” cases to be tried.

The lawyer said the articles found relating to Cheryl, who went to court under her maiden name Tweedy, were published as far back as 2011 – after the hacking scandal broke.

MGN opposes the Duke of Sussex and Cheryl’s claimants’ proposals and suggests alternative claimants including Mr Wright.

Andrew Green KC, for the publisher, told the court: “The Duke of Sussex is clearly not representative, there is simply no way to say he is.”

Mr Green said only a small number of articles relating to Harry would be dealt with if selected, meaning other candidates whose cases involved a smaller number of articles would be more representative.

He also said other proposals for test candidates, including Mr Wright and Tomlinson, also covered a large number of private investigators and that Mr Wright would cover the sports personalities category.

He argued that Cheryl was more representative, but that the range of articles about her was relatively small and only one of the articles was published in 2011.

Mr Justice Fancourt is expected to rule on which cases will be selected later on Wednesday.

MGN, the publisher of titles including The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People, has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to illegal information gathering, as has News Group Newspapers (NGN) – the publisher of the now defunct News Of The World and The Sun – in separate ongoing legal action.

A previous trial of representative claims, including those brought by former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost, was heard in 2015 and is the only trial to take place during the long-running trial.

A number of other cases have since been settled by both MGN and NGN. The phone hacking scandal led to the closure of News Of The World in 2011.

The Duke of Sussex is involved in other disputes against newspapers and is launching two separate legal actions against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of The Mail, The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.

It was announced on Wednesday that a hearing into one of his claims, relating to coverage of Harry’s judicial review against the Home Office on Sunday over security arrangements for his family when they visit the UK, is to be held at the High Court on March 17.

The Duke and ANL previously agreed to suspend the case in order to negotiate a settlement by January 20.

The High Court heard in December last year that if no settlement could be agreed, the duke would ask the court to either strike out ANL’s defense or grant summary judgment in its favour, avoiding the need for a trial.

A preliminary hearing in a separate legal action by Harry over alleged illegal gathering of information on ANL securities, which he brings alongside other high-profile figures including Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John, is set for March 27.

Harry has been outspoken in his criticism in the British press, most recently in his memoir Spare and in numerous television interviews.

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