Rupert Murdoch turned ‘blind eye’ to wrongdoing, Prince Harry lawyers allege | Prince Harry

Rupert Murdoch “turned a blind eye” to an extensive cover-up of wrongdoing at his newspapers, Prince Harry’s lawyers have alleged at the high court in London.

The direct allegations against the 93-year-old billionaire about activity at his publications are the latest stage in Harry’s war against the tabloid media, with lawyers for the Duke of Sussex and others accusing the media mogul of overseeing a “culture of impunity” at News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the Sun and the now defunct News of the World.

Court papers, which cover a period from the mid-1990s until 2016, also allege that Sir Will Lewis, the newly appointed publisher of Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, played a key role in deleting millions of potentially incriminating emails, when he was tasked with managing the fallout from phone hacking.

In July, Mr Justice Fancourt concluded that the duke could not bring his claim relating to phone hacking against the publisher and rejected his argument that there was a secret deal between the publisher and senior royals. But he ruled that Harry’s claim over other allegations, including use of private investigators and invasion of privacy, should go to a trial, due to take place in January 2025.

In a three-day hearing starting on Wednesday, lawyers for the claimants – who include the actor Hugh Grant and the Labour peer Doreen Lawrence – asked the judge for permission to change details of their case against NGN, including allegations that there was a cover-up by senior executives.

NGN has previously settled more than 1,300 claims since the Guardian exposed the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World in 2011, but it has consistently denied that unlawful information gathering took place at the Sun.

At the high court lawyers for NGN accused some of the claimants of using the case as a vehicle to attack the press. In written arguments Anthony Hudson KC, NGN’s lawyer, said the changes made “wide-ranging and serious allegations” but were “entirely in the abstract”.

He said they appeared “to be designed to grab headlines, and not to progress the individual claims”.

The amended claim by duke and others also alleges that NGN were aware that the “prolific use of private investigators to obtain unlawful information” was “wholly unchastened by the police investigations and prosecutions of 2011-2015” and that its claims to have clamped down on illegal activity were “insincere”.

It states: “[T]his culture of impunity comes from Rupert Murdoch, who was recorded at a meeting of Sun staff facing prosecution in 2012 that he was hostile to the authorities investigating and prosecuting journalists.”

Hudson dismissed some of the documents relied on as “ancient” and said in previous versions of the claims, Murdoch was only referred to in passing with “no allegations against him”.

In court documents, David Sherborne, a barrister who is representing the duke among other claimants, said Murdoch’s dominant position as executive chairman of News Corp, and director of NGN’s parent company, News International, meant he would have known the extent of NGN’s “wrongdoing” when phone hacking was first revealed by the Guardian in 2009.

The claimants allege that he knew News Corp’s public denial was false “or at the very least turned a blind eye to its veracity and that of the allegations”.

There are also multiple allegations made about the involvement of senior NGN executives, including the former NGN chief executive Rebekah Brooks and the former News International general manager Will Lewis, including claims that NGN “systematically deleted” millions of emails from 2007 to 2011.

The filings allege Lewis was instrumental to “the scheme to destroy amongst other things as much of the company’s historic electronic data as possible”. It added that it was “inferred” that he and others would not have carried out “his extensive concealment and destruction strategy without the knowledge and approval of Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch”.

Lawyers for the duke and others also alleged that NGN gave false evidence to the police to “explain away” the disappearance of a computer hard drive belonging to Brooks in May 2011, which they claimed was “sequestered and/or destroyed deliberately in order to conceal her and others’ knowledge of wrongdoing at NGN”.

The claimants asked permission to include extra documents, including a 2021 witness statement from an IT engineer at NGN who said the hard drive was intact in an audit in January 2011 but was later found to be missing.

Brooks, a former editor of the Sun and a key figure in the Murdoch empire, was found not guilty of hacking and other crimes after an eight-month trial in 2014.

A spokesperson for NGN said the group had apologised unreservedly to phone-hacking victims in 2011 and had paid financial damages for wrongdoing at the News of the World or “for good commercial reasons in the case of allegations against the Sun where liability is not accepted”.

The allegations had been investigated at length, and resulted in a number of trials of individuals while the Crown Prosecution Service concluded in 2015 that there was no evidence to support charges against the company, said a spokesperson.

The amendments sought by the claimants were “a scurrilous and cynical attack” and had “nothing to do with seeking compensation for victims of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering”, they added. They said lawyers for the claimants worked with “former phone hackers” and “anti-press campaigners” who were using civil procedures to make protected allegations.

The hearing is due to conclude on Friday, with Fancourt expected to rule on whether the updated claims can be included at a later date.


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