LONDON — A judge in Britain ruled on Friday that parts of an article in a tabloid newspaper about Prince Harry’s fight with the government over police protection were defamatory, in an initial phase of Harry’s libel case against the paper.
The newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, reported in February that Harry had “tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public” and that, after the story broke, his public relations team had “tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.”
Harry has filed a legal claim against the government, after the Home Office declined to allow him to pay for police protection when he and his family are in Britain. He and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, lost their publicly funded security when they stepped back from their royal duties in 2020, and they now pay for their own security as private citizens living in Los Angeles.
After the article was published, Harry filed a libel claim against the newspaper’s parent company, Associated Newspapers Limited, saying that the article meant he had “improperly and cynically tried to manipulate and confuse public opinion by authorizing his ‘spin doctors’ to put out false and misleading statements about his willingness to pay for police protection,” according to the ruling by Justice Matthew Nicklin of London’s High Court that was released on Friday.
The company has denied that the article was libelous, Reuters reported.
Harry also claimed that the article made him appear as if he had lied about his initial public statements that he was willing to pay for police protection, according to the ruling.
In a previous preliminary hearing, the court examined the “natural and ordinary meaning” of the article, published online and in print on Feb. 19 and 20. It also examined issues of fact, opinion and whether it was defamatory.
In Friday’s ruling, Justice Nicklin concluded: “It may be possible to ‘spin’ facts in a way that does not mislead, but the allegation being made in the article was very much that the object was to mislead the public.”
“That supplies the necessary element to make the meanings defamatory at common law,” the judgment said. But Justice Nicklin rejected Harry’s claim that the article accused him of lying.
The next step, the judge wrote, would be for the company to put forward its own defense. “This is very much the first phase in a libel claim,” Justice Nicklin wrote, adding, “It will be a matter for determination later in the proceedings whether the claim succeeds or fails, and if so on what basis.”
The ruling is the latest chapter in Harry’s long, poisonous relationship with Britain’s tabloids, which he has criticized for harassing his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a 1997 car crash in Paris as she was being chased by photographers.
In 2020, when Harry and Meghan moved to Los Angeles, the couple notified the publishers of four leading tabloids, including The Daily Mail, that they would no longer engage with the newspapers.
Last year, a High Court judge ruled that The Mail on Sunday had invaded Meghan’s privacy by publishing a private letter she had sent to her estranged father in 2018. An appeals court later rejected a bid by the publisher of the paper to force a trial over her claim.