LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry won the first stage of a libel suit against the publisher of Britain’s Mail on Sunday newspaper as a judge ruled Friday that parts of a story about his fight for police protection in the U.K. were defamatory.
High Court Justice Matthew Nicklin hasn’t yet considered issues such as whether the story was accurate or in the public interest, defenses that the newspaper will be able to offer in the next phase of the proceedings.
The suit revolves around the newspaper’s coverage of a separate High Court action Harry filed in an effort to force authorities to provide police protection for the prince and his family when they are in the U.K. The government withdrew the family’s round-the-clock protection when Harry and his wife, Meghan, gave up front-line royal duties and moved to California.
On Feb. 20, 2022, the Mail on Sunday reported that Harry sought a “far-reaching confidentiality order” to keep the details of his action against the government secret. Despite public statements by his spin doctors that the prince had always been willing to pay for police protection, that offer wasn’t made in his initial bid to overturn the government’s decision, the newspaper said.
Harry claims that the Mail on Sunday libeled him when it suggested that the prince lied in his initial public statements about the suit against the government and that he “cynically” tried to confuse the public by authorizing his representatives to put out “false and misleading statements” about his willingness to pay for police protection.
Nicklin ruled that “natural or ordinary meaning” of the article was defamatory. But he stressed that the decision didn’t apply to other issues in the case.
“This is very much the first phase in a libel claim,” the judge wrote in his decision. “The next step will be for the defendant to file a defense to the claim. It will be a matter for determination later in the proceedings whether the claim succeeds or fails, and if so on what basis.”