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Prince Harry ordered to pay £50,000 to Mail on Sunday after losing first battle in libel case

The Duke of Sussex has been ordered to pay the Mail on Sunday more than £48,000 in damages after he lost an attempt to strike out part of the paper’s defence in a libel case.

Prince Harry is suing the newspaper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), over an article about his legal battle with the Home Office concerning his security arrangements in the UK.

Now, a judge has ordered the prince to pay £48,447 in legal costs after his failed challenge. His case to have part of ANL’s defence removed was heard in March.

Last week, High Court judge Mr Justice Nicklin ruled that ANL can proceed with the “honest opinion” defence in the libel case, with Harry suing the news group over a February 2022 article about the government’s decision to strip him off taxpayer-funded security after relocating to the US.

Mr Justice Nicklin argued that ANL had a “real prospect” of arguing its position and that the case should go to trial. Harry must pay the newspaper by 29 December, the judge ordered.

Lawyers for Harry argued that the original article was libellous, calling it an attack on “his honesty and integrity”.

The story was titled: “How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over bodyguards a secret … then – just minutes after the story broke – his PR machine tried to put positive spin on the dispute.”

His counsel said the news article suggested Harry had “lied” and “tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public”.

ANL countered his claim, with their lawyers arguing it expressed an “honest opinion” and did not cause “serious harm” to Harry’s reputation.

Prince Harry leaves the High Court in June (AP)
Prince Harry leaves the High Court in June (AP)

In written submissions, Harry’s lawyer Justin Rushbrooke KC argued that the newspaper’s defence should be thrown out because it “rests upon two provably false premises” relating to a press statement released by Harry when he made the legal challenge.

Harry is challenging the Royalty and VIP Executive Committee (Ravec) decision not to grant him automatic police protection in the UK since stepping down as a senior member of the British royal family, and moving to California with his family.

His statement read: “The duke first offered to pay personally for UK police protection for himself and his family in January of 2020 at Sandringham.

“That offer was dismissed. He remains willing to cover the cost of security, as not to impose on the British taxpayer.”

However, Ravec in February 2022 said his offer of private funding “notably was not advanced” to the department, in a document prepared for a preliminary hearing of the security claim.

The Mail on Sunday described this as “a crushing rebuttal to Harry’s initial public statement that implied he had always been willing to foot the bill” while adding that the press statement issued on behalf of the duke confused the media and misinformed the public.

At the hearing in March, Mr Rushbrooke KC said it was“absolutely obvious” that Harry’s statement “makes no claim that the claimant [the duke] made an offer to Ravec or the Home Office or that his judicial review proceedings were to challenge a refusal to accept it”.

Meanwhile, Andrew Caldecott KC, for ANL, said the attempt to dismiss its “honest opinion” defence without trial was “wholly without merit”, adding that Harry’s case against his client is “built on sand”.

“The claimant was responsible for press statements that said he would pay for security when he had never expressed any willingness to pay until after the judicial review.”

A hearing, dealing with the consequences of Mr Justice Nicklin’s summary judgment decision, had been listed for Tuesday. But Mr Justice Nicklin said, in his written order, that hearing would not now take place.

He delivered the ruling on the duke’s summary judgment application a day after the High Court finished hearing Harry‘s claim that the February 2020 decision of the Ravec – which comes under the department’s remit – to change the degree of his personal protection was “unlawful and unfair”.

A different judge’s decision in that case is expected at a later date.