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Harry’s focus on ‘safety of family’ rather than abandoned libel claim

Harry’s focus on ‘safety of family’ rather than abandoned libel claim

The Duke of Sussex’s focus is on “the safety of his family” and his legal action against the Home Office, rather than a now abandoned High Court libel claim against a newspaper publisher, his spokesperson has said.

Harry, 39, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over a February 2022 Mail on Sunday article about his challenge against the Home Office following a decision to change his publicly-funded security arrangements when visiting the UK.

The duke’s lawyers claimed the story “purported to reveal, in sensational terms” that information from court documents “contradicted public statements he had previously made about his willingness to pay for police protection for himself and his family whilst in the UK”.

They alleged the article was “an attack on his honesty and integrity”, and would undermine his charity work and efforts to tackle misinformation online.

ANL contested the claim, arguing the article expressed an “honest opinion” and did not cause “serious harm” to his reputation.

Harry has now withdrawn his libel case against the publisher, with his lawyers filing a notice of discontinuance at the High Court in London on Friday.

Invictus Games – Dusseldorf
The Duke of Sussex has withdrawn his libel case against the publisher (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The civil claim had been heading towards an estimated three-day trial scheduled to be staged between May 17 and July 31 this year.

A spokesperson for the Sussexes said: “As is the nature with legal proceedings, years have lapsed since this complaint was first filed.

“In the time since, the main hearing relating to the duke’s judicial review has taken place and we are awaiting the final decision as to whether Ravec (The Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures) acted lawfully with regard to his security.

“His focus remains there, and on the safety of his family, rather than these legal proceedings that give a continued platform to the Mail’s false claims all those years ago.”

The spokesperson said it was “premature” to speculate on how legal costs in the case would now be determined.

Harry’s withdrawal of his case comes little over a month since he lost a bid to have ANL’s “honest opinion” defence thrown out by a judge.

In the December 8 ruling, a High Court judge refused to “strike out” ANL’s defence.

Mr Justice Nicklin concluded the publisher had a “real prospect” of successfully showing at a trial that Harry’s previous press statements provided a “misleading” description of his case against the Home Office.

Following the judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin said the duke must pay ANL’s legal costs linked to his failed bid to have its defence thrown out.

The judge ordered those costs should be assessed if they were not agreed, but that the duke should pay the £48,447 “on account” before the end of 2023.

Harry is still awaiting a ruling from a different judge in his separate claim against the Home Office over a decision to change the degree of his personal protection.

The duke alleges the February 2020 decision of Ravec – a body under the department’s remit – was “unlawful and unfair”.

Friday’s legal development also comes in the wake of Harry being awarded £140,600 in damages after a High Court judge ruled the duke’s phone was probably hacked “to a modest extent” by Mirror Group Newspapers – publisher of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

Harry is also bringing separate High Court claims against ANL and News Group Newspapers – publisher of The Sun – over allegations of unlawful information gathering.