LONDON (AP) — A London court on Friday rejected an attempt by the publisher of The Sun tabloid to dismiss a lawsuit brought by actor Hugh Grant alleging journalists and investigators he hired were illegally spying on him.
Judge Timothy Fancourt said a trial will have to determine whether Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers collected illegal information, including tapping Grant’s home phone, tapping his car and breaking into his home.
“If true – which will be a matter for the January 2024 trial – these allegations would demonstrate very serious, willful misconduct at NGN, which is being carried out on a large scale on an institutional basis,” Fancourt wrote. “Of particular importance… they would also make a concerted effort to cover up the misconduct by concealing and destroying relevant documentary evidence, repeated public denials, lies to regulators and authorities, and baseless threats to those who dared to make accusations or contemplated claims against The Sun.”
At a hearing last month, the News Group argued that claims of unlawful information collection by Grant and Prince Harry should be dismissed because they had not been made within a six-year term.
The ruling did not address the Duke of Sussex’s case as the judge wants to hear more about Harry’s allegations at a hearing in July that he was unable to make his phone hacking claims much earlier due to a “secret agreement” between Buckingham Palace and News Group Directors.
The judge rejected Grant’s phone hacking claims on the grounds of time restriction, saying the actor, who has played a key role in the Hacked Off press reform group, was well aware of the voicemail interception scandal and had made such a claim much earlier. could have submitted.
Grant previously settled a phone hacking case with News Group’s former publication News of the World. That newspaper was closed in 2011 at the height of the hacking scandal after it became known that the tabloid intercepted voicemails of a murdered girl, in addition to those of celebrities, sportsmen, politicians and members of the royal family.
News Group has claimed that no unlawful information gathering has taken place at The Sun.
But the judge said the case could proceed based on other allegations that the actor said he only became aware of in 2021 after private investigator Gavin Burrows began publicizing alleged acts of wiretapping, wiretapping and burglary on behalf of the paper.
“In addition to hacking into my phone and tapping my landline, (Burrows) was aware that my premises had been broken into by people working for The Sun and that a tracking device had been placed in my car,” said Grant in a witness statement. “I found this amazing.”
Grant said he could never find out who broke into his fourth-floor apartment in 2011. The door was ripped off its hinges and the interior looked like it had been fought over, but nothing was missing. Two days later, The Sun ran a story about the interior and “signs of a domestic quarrel.”
Prince Harry claimed last month that the royal family had agreed to settle their affairs with News Group out of court after the News of the World lawsuit over phone hacking concluded. He said the deal – reportedly agreed upon by his grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth II – was to prevent the royals from testifying in court. He said the deal called for an apology.
In court documents, Harry said he filed his lawsuit in 2019 — against the wishes of his father, now King Charles III — when he became frustrated that the settlement fell through. He said his brother, Prince William, heir to the throne, subsequently received a “massive” settlement over phone hacking allegations against News Group.
NGN has denied that there was a “secret agreement”. The palace has not responded to messages seeking comment on that or William’s alleged settlement.
A spokesperson for News Group said in a statement Friday that it was pleased the court rejected allegations of Grant’s phone hacking.
“NGN strongly denies the various historical allegations of unlawful information gathering in what remains of Mr. Grant’s claim,” the statement said.
Harry’s case against News Group is one of three phone hacking lawsuits he has brought against British tabloid publishers.
Fancourt is currently hearing evidence from a lawyer for Harry and three others against the publisher of the Daily Mirror for alleged acts of unlawful information gathering from the 1990s. Harry is due to testify in the case next month.
Another judge is currently considering whether cases brought against the Daily Mail publisher by the Duke, Elton John, actor and model Elizabeth Hurley and others should go to trial.