LONDON — Prince William was paid a “very large sum” by Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper group to settle phone-hacking claims, according to court documents submitted Tuesday by the legal team of his younger brother, Prince Harry.
Harry is suing Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) at the High Court in London for unlawful acts — including hacking his voice mails — that he alleges were committed on behalf of the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World tabloids from 1994 until 2016. A hearing this week is to determine whether the case should go to trial.
In documents submitted to the court, Harry’s legal team alleged there was a secret payment from Murdoch’s company to William. The submission doesn’t reveal the amount, nor the details of what William alleged happened, but said that NGN had settled with William “for a very large sum of money in 2020.”
The news of the payout to William surfaced after Murdoch’s Fox News agreed to pay an eye-popping $787.5 million in a defamation settlement with Dominion Voting Systems.
Harry claimed that the payment to his older brother was part of a secret deal between NGN and Buckingham Palace not to bring any further legal action against the Murdoch papers until other outstanding phone-hacking litigation was settled. NGN denies that there was a secret deal.
Kensington Palace, on behalf of Prince William, and Buckingham Palace, on behalf of King Charles III, declined to comment. It’s unclear whether Harry is on speaking terms with either his brother or father. He detailed his fractured relationship with them in his best-selling memoir, “Spare,” in which a major area of contention was his perception of the palace’s lack of action in the face of negative tabloid stories.
Harry says the deal was made because the palace wanted to keep members of the royal household from having to testify in court. In his witness statement, Harry said the royals wanted to avoid recounting “specific details of private and highly sensitive voice mails” in court, and he referenced the “intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and stepmother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother.”
He was thought to be referring to the Sun newspaper’s “Tampongate” story published after the paper obtained a 1989 phone recording of an intimate conversation between then Prince Charles and Camilla.
Harry also said that, in 2017, he decided to seek an apology from Murdoch. He said that his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his brother backed this bid.
William was “very understanding and supportive and agreed that we needed to do it” and “suggested that I seek permission from ‘granny,’” Harry said. He said he “spoke to her shortly afterwards and said something along the lines of: ‘Are you happy for me to push this forward, do I have your permission?’ And she said: ‘Yes.’”
But he claims his efforts were thwarted by his father’s staff as part of a “long term strategy to keep the media, including NGN, onside in order to smooth the way for my stepmother, and father, to be accepted by the British public as Queen Consort, and King respectively.”
NGN has previously paid out huge sums after journalists at its News of the World publication were jailed for phone hacking. The company is seeking to have Harry’s case dismissed because he waited too long to file suit. Harry’s side counters that the reason for the delay was the secret deal between the palace and NGN.
“It is important to bear in mind that in responding to this bid by NGN to prevent his claims going to trial, the claimant has had to make public the details of this secret agreement, as well as the fact that his brother, His Royal Highness, Prince William, has recently settled his claim against NGN behind the scenes,” the court filings said.
Harry is involved in several legal battles with British media groups. Last month, he caught the press off-guard when turned up in person for his case against the publisher of the Daily Mail. He is also scheduled to give evidence in a claim against the publisher of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror over phone-hacking allegations. That case is set to begin a few days after the May 6 coronation of King Charles.