Seven high-profile figures have joined forces to accuse Associated Newspapers of alleged unlawful information gathering.
The other claimants are Sir Elton’s husband, David Furnish, 61, the actresses Sadie Frost, 58, and Liz Hurley, 58, and Sir Simon Hughes, a former Lib Dem MP, 72.
The allegations include the hiring of private investigators to place listening devices inside cars, “blagging” private records and accessing and recording private phone conversations.
The newspaper group applied to have the claims dismissed without a trial on two grounds; that they were too old to be considered by the court and that some financial documents relied upon by the claimants were confidentially supplied to the Leveson inquiry and were being used in breach of a restriction order.
Mr Justice Nicklin, who heard arguments over four days in March 2023, handed down his ruling on Friday.
He said Associated had “not been able to deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to the claims of any of these claimants” and rejected the publisher’s argument that the claim was time-barred.
However, the judge agreed with the newspaper publisher that the accounting ledgers were subject to a restriction order and could not be used as evidence.
To rely on those documents at trial, he said the claimants would need to obtain approval by the government ministers who took over responsibility for the inquiry: Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary and/or Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary.
David Sherborne, who is representing all seven claimants, also represented core participants at the Leveson inquiry.
‘Significant victory for justice’
However, the barrister told the court in March 2023 that the documents were leaked by “an investigative journalist at an online media publication who has not revealed his source”.
He said it could not be proved that they were leaked from the inquiry.
Associated hailed the ruling as a “significant victory for justice and the Mail”.
The publisher, whose parent company, DMGT, has expressed an interest in buying the Telegraph, said in a statement: “As we have always made unequivocally clear, the lurid claims made by Prince Harry and others of phone hacking, landline tapping, burglary and sticky window microphones are simply preposterous and we look forward to establishing this in court in due course.”
Lawyers for the Duke and others said they were “delighted” with the ruling, which allows their claims to proceed to trial.
The judge said that each claimant had a “real prospect” of demonstrating that Associated concealed the relevant facts, preventing them from bringing a worthwhile claim before October 2016.
‘Hidden from the claimants’
In many instances, he said they may prove that further devices were employed in the published articles to throw the subject ‘off the scent’”.
“Whilst it is common ground that the publication of any unlawful articles was not concealed, these were, on the claimants’ case, only the tip of the iceberg,” the judge said.
“What was deliberately hidden from the claimants – if they are correct in their allegations – were the underlying unlawful acts that are alleged to have been used to obtain information for subsequent publication.”
The Duke, whose claim concerns a period “from at least as early as 2001” until “2013 and beyond”, made an unannounced appearance at the High Court in March 2023 to throw his weight behind the claim.
The claimants said: “The High Court has dismissed ‘without difficulty’ the attempt by Associated Newspapers to throw these cases out.
“Indeed, the judge found that each of our claims had a real prospect of showing there was concealment of unlawful acts by the Mail titles and that this could not have been discovered until recently. Our claims can now proceed to trial.”
They said the decision not to allow the use of the accounting ledgers only “delays the inevitable”, insisting that eventually, they would have to be produced by Associated in the course of the claim.
Associated strenuously denies the allegations, which it has described as “preposterous smears” and a “pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal”.
A further hearing has been scheduled for Nov 21 2023.