Hugh Grant. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, Dossier
A London court on Friday dismissed an attempt by the publisher of the tabloid The Sun to dismiss a lawsuit brought by actor Hugh Grant alleging journalists and investigators he hired had illegally spied on him.
Judge Timothy Fancourt said a trial will have to determine whether the newspapers of Rupert Murdoch’s news group engaged in illegal news gathering, including tapping Grant’s home phone, tapping his car and breaking into his home.
“If true – which will be the subject of the trial to be held in January 2024 – these allegations would establish very serious and deliberate wrongdoing at NGN, committed on a large-scale institutional basis,” Fancourt wrote. “Of particular importance…they would also establish a concerted effort to cover up wrongdoing by concealing and destroying relevant documentary evidence, repeated public denials, lies to regulators and authorities, and unwarranted threats against of those who have dared to make allegations or notify intentional claims against The Sun.”
At a hearing last month, News Group argued that allegations of unlawful information gathering by Grant and Prince Harry should be thrown out because they were not brought forward within six years.
The decision did not address the case of the Duke of Sussex, as the judge wants to hear more at a hearing in July about Harry’s claims that he was prevented from filing a phone hacking complaint much earlier due to of a “secret agreement” between Buckingham Palace and News. Group leaders.
Judge dismissed Grant’s phone hacking allegations on time limitation grounds, saying the actor, who played a key role in press reform group Hacked Off, was well aware of the phone hacking scandal voicemail interception and could have filed such a complaint much sooner.
Grant previously settled a phone hacking case with former News Group publication News of the World. This newspaper was shut down in 2011 at the height of the hacking scandal after it was revealed that the tabloid had intercepted the voicemails of a murdered girl, in addition to those of celebrities, athletes, politicians and members of the royal family.
News Group claimed that no illegal news gathering took place at The Sun.
But the judge said the case could continue on other allegations the actor said he only learned about in 2021 after private investigator Gavin Burrows began disclosing alleged acts of eavesdropping phone calls, wiretapping and burglary in the name of the newspaper.
“In addition to hacking into my phone and tapping my landline, (Burrows) knew 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 that amazing.”
Grant said he could never piece together who broke into his fourth-floor apartment in 2011. The door had been ripped off its hinges and the inside looked like a fight, but nothing was missing. Two days later, The Sun had a story detailing the interior and “signs of a domestic dispute”.
Prince Harry alleged last month that the royal family had agreed to settle their affairs with News Group out of court after the end of the phone hacking dispute against News of the World. He said the deal – which would have been agreed to by his grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth II – was to prevent the royal family from giving evidence in court. He said the deal called for an apology.
In court papers, Harry said he took legal action in 2019 – against the wishes of his father, the current King Charles III – when he became frustrated that the settlement was not happening. He said his brother Prince William, heir to the throne, later received a ‘huge’ settlement following phone hacking allegations against News Group.
NGN denied there was a “secret deal”. The Palace did not respond to messages seeking comment on this or William’s alleged settlement.
A News Group spokesperson released a statement on Friday saying he was pleased the court dismissed Grant’s phone hacking allegations.
“NGN strongly denies the various historical allegations of unlawful information gathering contained in what remains of Mr. Grant’s claim,” the statement said.
Harry’s case against News Group is one of three phone-hacking suits he has brought against UK tabloid editors.
Fancourt is currently hearing evidence from a lawyer for Harry and three others against the Daily Mirror publisher for alleged acts of unlawful newsgathering dating back to the 1990s. Harry is due to give evidence in the case next month.
Another judge is currently considering whether cases brought by the Duke, Elton John, actor and model Elizabeth Hurley, and others against the Daily Mail publisher should go to trial.