murdochs news group paid settlement to prince william court filing shows

A legal filing by Prince Harry in his own case against News Group claims his brother received “a huge sum of money’’ to settle phone-hacking allegations.

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper group paid Prince William, the heir to the British throne, a “huge sum of money” in 2020 to settle claims that its journalists hacked his cellphone, according to his brother, Prince Harry.

Harry, who is also suing Mr. Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, said in a legal filing that the payment grew out of a “secret agreement” between the publisher and the royal family, in which the family would defer legal claims against the company and thus avoid the spectacle of having to testify about embarrassing details from their intercepted voice mail messages.

Harry did not disclose the terms or size of the settlement in the filing, or refer to specific incidents in which his brother’s calls had been hacked. He said William brought a claim against News Group, publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct tabloid News of the World, in 2019, years after the illegal activity took place and the bulk of the phone-hacking litigation had been wound up.

A spokesman for Prince William did not respond to a request for comment. News Group declined to comment on whether it had settled with William but denied that there had been a secret agreement with the royal family.

Harry’s claim about the settlement came as his own case against News Group resumed in the high court in London on Tuesday. He has accused The Sun and other tabloids of illegally intercepting his calls and other personal information for many years, and later reneging on an agreement with the royal family to apologize for it.

His claim of a costly settlement involving his brother was disclosed days after Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation case brought by the Dominion Voting Systems, the election technology firm that was derided by multiple Fox News hosts after President Donald J. Trump’s defeat by President Biden in 2020. It also comes a day after Fox News’s most popular and inflammatory host, Tucker Carlson, was forced out in a dismissal that laid bare a new level of turmoil at the network.

For Mr. Murdoch, the disclosures about phone hacking resurrect another humbling episode in his long career, when it was revealed that News of the World reporters had hacked the phone of a murdered 13-year-old British girl. Mr. Murdoch’s editors and executives were put in the dock and his company’s methods were widely excoriated.

For Rupert Murdoch, the disclosures about phone hacking resurrect another humbling episode in his long career, when it was revealed that News of the World reporters had hacked the phone of a murdered 13-year-old British girl. Mike Segar/Reuters

Much of Harry’s 31-page statement is a familiar litany of grievances against the London tabloids. He said the papers were guilty of “utterly vile” behavior in invading his privacy and that of his future wife, Meghan Markle, as well as of a former girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who was hounded by paparazzi. Among their techniques, he said, was to hack his phone to intercept voice mail messages.

But Harry’s claim of a “secret agreement” between the royal family and senior executives at News Group has not previously been disclosed. It was designed, he said, to prevent the airing of further dirty laundry at a time when the royal family had been caught in a string of scandals.

“The institution was incredibly nervous about this and wanted to avoid at all costs the reputational damage that it had suffered in 1993 when The Sun and another tabloid had unlawfully obtained and published details of an intimate telephone conversation that took place between my father and stepmother in 1989, while he was still married to my mother,” Harry said in the witness statement.

His reference was to an intercepted phone call between Charles, then the Prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker-Bowles, with whom Charles was conducting an extramarital affair. At one point, Charles is heard telling her he wished he could “live inside your trousers,” perhaps by being reincarnated as a tampon.

Harry’s relationship with his father and brother has broken down amid his allegations that the royal family mistreated his wife, Meghan. In his memoir, “Spare,” Harry describes a toxic atmosphere in which members of the family share dirt on one another with tabloid reporters in an effort to win more flattering coverage of themselves.

Now, in his legal case, Harry is exhuming some of the royal family’s most lurid and cringe-worthy moments on the eve of his father’s coronation as Charles III. Charles later divorced Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, and married Ms. Parker-Bowles, who will be crowned as Queen Camilla, alongside Charles, on May 6.

King Charles III and Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Queen Consort, at Windsor Castle this month. Pool photo by Yui Mok

Despite the bitter rift, Buckingham Palace recently said that Harry would attend the coronation, though Meghan will remain at the couple’s home in Montecito, Calif., with their two children, Archie and Lilibet.

Experts on the royal family said the confidential nature of the settlement between William and News Group would lead to unwelcome speculation, not least because Harry suggested that the deal led to him “going ‘quietly,’ so to speak.”

“He’s absolutely entitled to reach a settlement and he’s absolutely entitled not to tell us the terms of the settlement,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “But it will raise all sorts of questions about what else is in the deal.”

“You’re talking about the next constitutional head of state, you’re talking about Rupert Murdoch, and you’re talking about a secret deal,” Mr. Hunt added.

News Group has apologized to other victims of the phone hacking by News of the World, which Mr. Murdoch shut down after the scandal involving the 13-year-old girl. The company has also reached financial settlements with multiple victims of hacking. But The Sun, which is fighting other hacking lawsuits, has not admitted wrongdoing. News Group contends that Harry’s case should not go to trial because his allegations are too old.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, N.G.N. is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago,” a spokeswoman for News Group Newspapers said on Tuesday. “All of these matters are historical, dating back to a period between 1996 and 2012.”

In a court filing, a lawyer representing News Group, Maxine Gayle Mossman, said she asked several senior in-house lawyers at News Corporation who were involved in the litigation about a secret agreement with the royal family, and that none “were involved in, informed of, or otherwise aware of any ‘secret agreement.’”

In his filing, Harry claims that he got approval from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, to demand a formal apology from News Group for the alleged hacking. He describes fruitless efforts to obtain a response from Rebekah Brooks, who then headed Mr. Murdoch’s British papers, and Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corporation. Ms. Brooks was found not guilty of phone hacking after a trial in 2014.

Harry said he had felt pressure to confront the News Group executives before his 2018 wedding to Ms. Markle because he did not want Mr. Murdoch’s papers to profit from covering the event without making amends for their past behavior.

“I remember going to my brother and saying something along the lines of ‘Enough of this. I want to get permission to push for a resolution to our phone hacking claims and a formal apology from Murdoch before any of his people are allowed anywhere near the wedding,’ ” Harry said in his statement.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at their wedding ceremony at Windsor Castle in 2018. Harry has accused The Sun and other tabloids of illegally intercepting his calls for many years.Pool photo by Ben Stansall

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