The Duke of Sussex has lost his latest legal battle, as a judge ruled that a newspaper may successfully argue in court that his team undertook a “masterclass of spinning” to “mislead” the public about his offer to pay for security.
Mr Justice Nicklin said Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), the publishers of the Mail on Sunday, has a “real prospect of demonstrating that an honest person could have held the view” that the Duke’s representatives were “spinning” in a statement about his security.
The case relates to a story, published in February 2022 in the Mail on Sunday, about the Duke’s dispute with the Home Office about his ongoing security after he left the working Royal Family.
The newspaper wrote: “REVEALED: How Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret… then minutes after MoS broke story his PR machine tried to put positive spin on the dispute”.
On Thursday, the judge explained that a press statement issued by the Duke’s team “suggested that ... the Duke of Sussex had made at least one previous offer to the Government to pay for his state security, which ... had been rejected by the Government”.
But, the judge said in a written ruling, that ANL had a “real prospect of demonstrating” that “these suggestions were not accurate, or at least did not give the full story”.
The High Court has previously agreed that the story claimed that the Duke was “responsible for public statements, issued on his behalf, which claimed that he was willing to pay for police protection in the UK, and that his legal challenge was to the Government’s refusal to permit him to do so”.
“Whereas the true position, as revealed in documents filed in the legal proceedings, was that he had only made the offer to pay after the proceedings had commenced.”
“As such,” the court heard, “the Duke of Sussex was responsible for attempting to mislead and confuse the public as to the true position, which was ironic given that he now held a public role in tackling “misinformation”.
The Duke is arguing that the story is libellous.
His lawyers have said the story, which claimed the Duke “tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public”, was “an attack on his honesty and integrity” and would undermine his charity work and efforts to tackle misinformation online.
ANL is contesting the claim, arguing the article expressed an “honest opinion” and did not cause “serious harm” to his reputation.
In March, the High Court heard the Duke’s bid to strike out ANL’s “honest opinion” defence or grant judgment in his favour on it.
In a written ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Nicklin refused to strike out ANL’s defence.
Explaining his decision, the judge said: “It is not fanciful that the defendant will be successful, at trial, in demonstrating that the public statements issued …sought to promote the…claim as his battle against the Government’s (perverse) decision to refuse to allow him to pay for his own security.
“I anticipate that, at trial, the defendant may well submit that this was a masterclass in the art of ‘spinning’.”
Unless legal teams for the Duke and ANL can reach a settlement the matter will go to trial next year.