Prince Harry ordered by judge to explain why messages 'destroyed' as he battles publisher of The Sun

Prince Harry has been ordered by a High Court judge to explain how messages between him and the ghostwriter of his memoir, Spare, came to be "destroyed".

There is a suggestion they may be relevant to his legal action against the publisher of The Sun newspaper, News Group Newspapers (NGN).

Mr Justice Fancourt said the apparent deletion of the duke's exchanges with John Moehringer on the Signal messaging platform, as well as drafts of Spare prior to its publication, was "not transparently clear".

He also said there was evidence that a "large number of potentially relevant documents" and "confidential messages" between Harry and his ghostwriter "were destroyed some time between 2021 and 2023, well after this claim was under way".

He ordered the duke's lawyers to carry out further searches of his laptop and examine his texts, Whatsapp and Signal messages from 2005 to January last year.

Harry has also been ordered to make an interim payment of £60,000 in legal costs to NGN, as the judge ruled largely in favour of the publisher's request for a wider search for evidence.

Earlier, the prince was accused of creating an "obstacle course" in his legal battle against NGN.

Lawyers for the publisher also claimed the Duke of Sussex had to be dragged "kicking and screaming" into disclosing more than 11,000 emails from a now-closed account.

Anthony Hudson KC, representing NGN, said it appeared that "all documents relating to the writing of Spare [the duke's memoir] were destroyed before publication and after the commencement of these proceedings".

Legally, the purpose of disclosure is to ensure all parties are aware of any documents that have a bearing on the case, the government website says.

NGN wants Harry to disclose information that could relate to when he knew he could bring a potential case against the publisher.

NGN also wants to know whether the filing of the prince's claim, in September 2019, was made within a legal time limit, the court was told.

The publisher is asking Mr Justice Fancourt to order Harry's current and former solicitors to carry out searches of various communications.

The duke's legal team accused the publisher of embarking on a "classic fishing expedition" that was "entirely unnecessary and disproportionate".

Harry, 39, alleges he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for NGN, which also published the News Of The World, which folded in 2011.

He is one of a number of people bringing cases against the publisher. A full trial of some of those cases is due to be held in January.

NGN has previously denied unlawful activity took place at The Sun.

Mr Justice Fancourt heard that 11,570 emails from the duke's now-closed email account were being reviewed for potential disclosure by his lawyers.

Mr Hudson said: "We've had to drag those out of the claimant kicking and screaming," adding that the disclosure process is "incredibly simple but for the obstacle course created by the claimant".

"He doesn't want to have to do this for whatever reason," Mr Hudson added.

In written arguments, he said conversations Harry had on messaging service Signal with the ghostwriter of Spare, John Moehringer, had been "wiped" before the memoir was published, adding: "It therefore appears that a substantial source of relevant documents in the claimant's control has been deleted during the currency of these proceedings."

Mr Hudson continued: "It appears that all documents relating to the writing of Spare were destroyed before publication and after the commencement of these proceedings, a matter which gives rise to real concern as to whether the claimant has complied with his obligation to preserve potentially relevant documents."

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David Sherborne, representing Harry, said he opposed the publisher's bid for disclosure, adding that an impression had been given that was "quite wrong".

He also claimed that NGN had previously deleted "millions of emails" as a way of "hiding incriminating evidence".

It is the "height of hypocrisy to suggest that obstacles are being put in the way by the claimant who obviously has something to hide", Mr Sherborne added.

Harry is voluntarily allowing a search of his emails that has taken 150 hours and cost £50,000, the duke's lawyer said.

In written arguments, Mr Sherborne said Harry had already searched his California home for material, and that he no longer had laptops, mobile phones or data backups from before September 2013.

Harry's Hotmail email address used before 2014 had been deactivated, he added, while there were "no relevant social media accounts that fall to be searched".

Royal aides have also been contacted and "have confirmed they do not hold relevant documents", Mr Sherborne said.