Prince Harry, Sir Elton John and the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence have launched a joint legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail, alleging “gross breaches of privacy” through unlawful reporting.
The lawsuit against Associated Newspapers for the first time pulls the owner of Britain’s top-selling print title into similar legal battles over phone hacking and unlawful reporting to those that have beset Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
The suit was filed on Thursday by a group including the Duke of Sussex; the musician John and his partner David Furnish; the actresses Elizabeth Hurley and Sadie Frost; and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, whose son, Stephen, was murdered in a racist attack in 1993.
The claimants allege that Associated Newspapers, whose titles include the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, were involved in “abhorrent criminal activity” that intruded on their private lives. Associated Newspapers dismissed the “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims”.
The claim includes allegations that the news group hired private investigators to “secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes”, according to a statement from the group’s law firm Hamlins.
Other allegations include other forms of eavesdropping on telephone calls; payments to police officials for sensitive information; impersonation of individuals to access private medical records; and using illicit means to access financial records.
Associated Newspapers said: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims — based on no credible evidence — appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”
Associated Newspapers is part of the Daily Mail and General Trust, the holding company owned by Jonathan Harmsworth, the fourth Viscount Rothermere.
Most of the claimants have reached settlements over phone-hacking with Murdoch’s NewsUK, the owner of the Sun and the defunct News of the World. In total, News UK has paid more than half a billion dollars for settlements relating to phone-hacking.
Despite these payouts to phone hacking victims, News UK, which owns the Sun and the Times and Sunday Times newspapers, is still facing dozens of lawsuits from sports stars, celebrities and politicians more than a decade after the scandal first broke. A number of claims have recently been brought against the Sun newspaper.
Earlier this year it emerged that the phone hacking scandal cost News Group Newspapers a further £49mn in the year to June 2021 — a decade after the scandal first broke out into the open and it emerged that the now-closed News of the World newspaper had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Reach, which owns the Daily Mirror, is also still facing a number of claims. Prince Harry has a case working through the courts alleging wrongdoing at the Sun, News of the World and against the publishers of the Mirror.
Lawrence has not previously been involved in any phone-hacking related claims and has in the past praised the Daily Mail for helping to highlight the failings of the justice system in prosecuting the killers of her son Stephen.
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, successfully sued the publishers of the Mail on Sunday after the newspaper published extracts of a letter she wrote to her father. The Sussexes cited their unhappiness with Britain’s tabloid culture as a factor in their decision to move to America in 2020 and give up their positions within the Royal family.