Judge tells Prince Harry to explain how communications with ghostwriter were destroyed

A London judge has ordered Prince Harry to explain how communications with the ghostwriter of his memoir were destroyed after a lawyer for a tabloid he is suing accused him of engaging in “shocking” obfuscation

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry was hit with a hefty legal bill Thursday and ordered to explain how communications with the ghostwriter of his memoir were destroyed after an attorney for The Sun tabloid accused him of engaging in "shocking" obfuscation in his lawsuit claiming the newspaper violated his privacy by unlawfully snooping on him.

Judge Timothy Fancourt said it was troubling that all communications between the Duke of Sussex and writer J.R. Moehringer, along with all drafts of the best-selling "Spare," were destroyed.

Attorney Anthony Hudson said at the High Court that Harry had created an “obstacle course” to providing documents that should be disclosed in litigation and that “we’ve had to drag those out of the claimant kicking and screaming.”

News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, was awarded 132,000 pounds ($167,000) in legal costs for largely prevailing in a request to have more searches undertaken for data on Harry's laptop and any text messages and chats on WhatsApp and Signal that could be helpful to the defense.

Harry’s lawyer said News Group was engaging in a “classic fishing expedition” for documents it should have sought sooner for a trial scheduled in January.

“NGN’s tactical and sluggish approach to disclosure wholly undermines the deliberately sensational assertion that the claimant (Harry) has not properly carried out the disclosure exercise,” attorney David Sherborne said in court papers. “This is untrue. In fact, the claimant has already made clear that he has conducted extensive searches, going above and beyond his obligations.”

The hearing is the latest in Harry's battles against Britain's biggest tabloids over allegations they hacked his phone and hired private investigators who used unlawful measures to dig up dirt on him.

Harry is one of dozens of claimants, which had included actor Hugh Grant, alleging that between 1994 and 2016, News Group journalists and investigators they hired violated their privacy by intercepting voicemails, tapping phones, bugging cars and using deception to access confidential information.

The litigation grew out of a phone hacking scandal that erupted in 2011 at NGN's News of the World, which closed its doors as a result.

NGN issued an unreserved apology to victims of voicemail interception by the News of the World. NGN said it has settled 1,300 claims for its newspapers, though The Sun has never accepted liability.

The Sun won a partial victory last year when Fancourt tossed out Harry's phone hacking allegations because he waited too long to bring the case. He ruled that Harry should have been aware of the scandal that engulfed the News of the World and, therefore, could have brought the lawsuit within the six-year time limitation.

The newspaper wants to use the time limitation defense at trial and is seeking communications that could show Harry was aware of allegations newspapers employed other illegal methods of unearthing information before 2013 — six years before he sued in 2019.

Fancourt said that older communications and even ones up to the 2023 publication of his memoir could provide evidence that he was aware of the unlawful information gathering years earlier.

He ordered Harry, who was not in court, to provide a witness statement explaining what happened to communications with Moehringer.

Sherborne said Harry had not used text or messaging apps to discuss unlawful information gathering.

But Fancourt said that might be contradicted because Moehringer wrote in a New Yorker article that he and Harry were “texting around the clock.”

Fancourt recently ruled that Harry couldn't expand his lawsuit to add allegations that Rupert Murdoch, who was chief executive of the company that controlled NGN, was part of an effort to conceal and destroy evidence of unlawful activity.