LONDON – Prince William quietly received “a very large sum of money” in a 2020 settlement with the British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire for phone hacking, according to court documents aired Tuesday in one of his brother's lawsuits.
Prince Harry's lawyer revealed the unspecified payout in a summary of arguments about why Harry's lawsuit against the publisher of The Sun and now-defunct News Of The World shouldn't be thrown out. The suit alleges the newspapers unlawfully gathered information in a scandal dating back two decades.
News Group Newspapers, which Murdoch owns, argued that a High Court judge should throw out phone hacking lawsuits by the prince and by actor Hugh Grant because the claims were brought too late.
But Harry, the Duke of Sussex, said he was prevented from bringing his case because of a “secret agreement” between the royal family and the newspapers that called for a settlement and apology. The deal, which the prince said was authorized by the late Queen Elizabeth II, would have prevented future litigation from the royals.
The publisher denied there was any secret agreement.
Harry said the rationale for the secret agreement reached with senior executives at News Group Newspapers was to avoid putting members of the royal family on the witness stand to recount embarrassing voicemails intercepted by reporters.
Harry alluded to an incident that became known as “tampongate," in which recordings were leaked of intimate conversations in which his father, now King Charles III, speaking with his paramour, now Queen Consort Camilla, compared himself to a tampon.
“The institution was incredibly nervous about this and wanted to avoid at all costs the sort of reputational damage that it had suffered in 1993 when The Sun and another tabloid had unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and stepmother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother,” Harry said in his witness statement.
Harry said he would have brought a lawsuit earlier if not for the agreement. He began pushing for a resolution in 2017 but said he “had enough” after the publisher “filibustered.” He filed suit in 2019.
The court papers said William, Prince of Wales and heir to the U.K. throne, later settled for a large, but undisclosed, sum.
“It is important to bear in mind that in responding to this bid by NGN to prevent his claims going to trial, (Harry) 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,” attorney David Sherborne wrote. “This is used very much by (Harry) as ‘a shield not a sword’ against NGN’s attack.”
The lawsuit is one of several Harry has brought in his battle against British newspapers. Two other suits involve phone hacking, including a case against the publisher of The Mirror going to trial next month — three days after the coronation of Charles. Harry is expected to testify in that case in June.
News Group Newspapers argued that Harry didn't deserve an exception to the six-year time limit for bringing a legal claim because he was aware of the phone hacking by News of the World.
In fact, former News of the World royals reporter Clive Goodman and a private investigator he hired, Glenn Mulcaire, were prosecuted and sentenced to jail for their role in intercepting voicemails. Goodman apologized in court to Harry, William and their father, then Prince Charles, in 2006. The newspaper apologized to Harry and others, NGN attorney Anthony Hudson said in court papers.
News of the World closed in 2011 after it was revealed that the phone hacking scandal went beyond the royal family, politicians and celebrities and intercepted messages of a murdered girl, relatives of deceased British soldiers and victims of a bombing.
The collapse of the News of the World and related litigation cost Murdoch's U.K. publishing business more than 1 billion pounds ($1.24 billion), according to a review of business filings by the Press Gazette, a U.K. media trade publication.
The Press Gazette noted in a 2021 article that phone hacking cases and related expenses in 2020 — the year of the alleged payout to William — cost NGN 80 million pounds ($99 million).
Last week, Murdoch's Fox News agreed to pay more than $787 million to settle a lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over airing false claims following the 2020 presidential election.