Rupert Murdoch Knew of Widespread Phone Hacking, Prince Harry’s Lawyer Claims

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is now being named by Prince Harry’s attorney as one of many News Corp. executives who allegedly knew the breadth of the company’s use of illegal news-gathering tactics and conspired to destroy evidence as the phone hacking scandal exploded over a decade ago.

The allegation came from attorney David Sherborne during a three-day hearing in London as the Duke of Sussex, actor Hugh Grant and others seek to amend their lawsuit against the company to include the charge that top brass, including then-executive chairman Murdoch, were fully aware that public statements downplaying the company’s use of phone hacking and other illegal tactics at News Group Newspapers (NGN) were untrue.

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During the first of a three-day hearing in the High Court, Harry and other claimants sought to amend their lawsuit against the publisher to include these allegations against executives, saying they were part of an effort to conceal and destroy evidence of wrongdoing.

“It is inferred that they would not have been carrying out this extensive concealment and destruction strategy without the knowledge and approval of Rupert Murdoch,” Sherborne wrote in the court filing, according to the Associated Press.

Defense lawyer Anthony Hudson countered that the move was merely “designed to grab headlines” favorable to the plaintiffs and that such a change is unnecessary. Hudson added that the legal maneuver is aimed at “campaigning against the tabloid press” as a “substitute for a public inquiry.”

An email sent by THR to News Corp. seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The case is the latest battle in the British royal’s legal crusade against the tabloid press, which so far, he’s winning. In December, Justice Timothy Fancourt ruled in his favor in a 386-page decision handed down in the High Court; he said that phone hacking, which for the prince dated back to 2003, was “widespread and habitual” at Mirror Group Newspapers — and that executives there had covered it up. Prince Harry, who is breaking with royal tradition in this fight, becoming the first in the family to testify in open court in over a century, also has a pending case against British red top The Daily Mail.

As he launched the legal offensive in 2019, Prince Harry indicated that he is motivated by the “painful” impact of intrusive media coverage and referred to his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, saying that his “deepest fear is history repeating itself.”

“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” the royal said in a statement at the time.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

The illegal interception of voicemails, tapping of phones, vehicle-bugging and subterfuge were tactics deployed in the period between 1994 and 2016 by journalists at the shuttered News of the World and The Sun daily newspapers, Harry and his fellow claimants allege. The widespread unlawful activity violated their right to privacy, they claim, and later, executives lied about what they knew as they conducted a hushed effort to hide the misdeeds — deleting millions of emails while paying off those who could reveal the crimes.

The BBC reported that in order to hack into voicemail messages of celebrities, journalists and private investigators were using a default factory-set pin code. They would then use what was heard to write news stories.

As the illegal activities that took place at the News of the World and The Sun were exposed in 2011, a false narrative emerged from the company’s Wapping compound that a “rogue reporter” was responsible for the violations. That year, NGN apologized for the widespread phone-hacking by News of the World journalists and Murdoch shut it down. Since then, the company has settled 1,300-plus claims.

Rebekah Brooks
Chief executive officer of News U.K. Rebekah Brooks

In the aftermath, Murdoch gave “knowingly false” evidence, the suit alleges, while News U.K.’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, a former editor at The Sun, “lied and/or gave deliberately misleading evidence” at her 2014 criminal trial; the company has steadfastly maintained that hacking tactics never took place at The Sun. In addition to Brooks, former News International executive Will Lewis stands accused of involvement in covering up evidence; he is currently the publisher of The Washington Post.

A total of 200 freshly named journalists, executives and private investigators are introduced in the new allegations. NGN’s lawyers called the additions unnecessary, disproportionate and irrelevant in a statement asserting to the court that they constitute “misleading pleadings and unjustified inferences in a scurrilous and cynical attack on their integrity.”

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