A London court on Friday rejected an attempt by the publisher of The Sun tabloid newspaper to have a lawsuit dismissed by actor Hugh Grant alleging that journalists and investigators it had hired had unlawfully intruded on him.
Judge Timothy Fancourt said the trial should determine whether Rupert Murdoch News Group’s newspapers collected illegal information that included tapping Grant’s home phone, tapping his car and breaking into his home.
“If true — and it is a matter for the trial scheduled for January 2024 — these allegations would prove gross and willful wrongdoing at NGN, conducted on an institutional basis,” Fancourt wrote. “Critical … it will also create a concerted effort to conceal wrongdoing by concealing and destroying relevant documentary evidence, repeated public denials, lies to regulators and authorities, and gratuitous threats to those who dare make allegations or notify intended allegations against The Sun.”
During a hearing last month, the news group argued that allegations of illegal information gathering by Grant and Prince Harry should be dismissed because they were not made within the six-year time frame.
The ruling did not touch on the Duke of Sussex’s case because the judge wants to hear more at a hearing in July about Harry’s claims that he was prevented from making phone hacking allegations much sooner due to a “confidential agreement” between Buckingham Palace and news group executives.
The judge dismissed Grant’s claims of phone hacking on punctual grounds, saying the actor, who played a key role in the Hacked Off press repair group, was well aware of the voicemail interception scandal and could have filed such a claim much sooner.
Grant previously settled a phone hack case with the former News Group News of the World publication. That newspaper was shut down in 2011 at the height of the hacking scandal after it was revealed that the tabloid had intercepted the voicemails of a murdered girl, as well as those of celebrities, athletes, politicians and members of the royal family.
The News Group confirmed that no illegal information-gathering took place at The Sun.
But the judge said the case could continue over other allegations that the actor said he only learned about in 2021 after special investigator Gavin Burroughs began uncovering phone-tapping, wiretapping and burglary on behalf of the newspaper.
“In addition to hacking into my phone and wiretapping my landline, he (Burroughs) was aware that my building had been burgled by people working for The Sun and that a tracking device had been placed in my car,” Grant said in a statement. “I found this amazing.”
Grant said he could never put together who broke into his fourth-floor apartment in 2011. The door was ripped off its hinges and the inside looked like there had been a fight but nothing was missing. Two days later, The Sun had a story detailing the inside and “signs of domestic dissension”.
Prince Harry claimed last month that the royal family had agreed to settle their cases with News Group out of court after the phone hacking lawsuit against News of the World ended. He said the deal – which was allegedly agreed to by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II – was aimed at preventing members of the royal family from testifying in court. He said the deal required an apology.
In court papers, Harry said he brought his claim in 2019 – against the wishes of his father, now King Charles III – when he became frustrated that a settlement had not happened. He said his brother Prince William, the heir to the throne, then received a “massive” settlement over allegations of phone hacking against the news group.
NGN denied the existence of a “confidential agreement”. The palace did not respond to messages seeking comment on this or William’s alleged settlement.
A News Group spokesperson issued a statement on Friday saying it was pleased the court had cleared Grant’s allegations of a hack into his phone.
“NGN vigorously denies the various historical allegations of illegal information collection contained in the remainder of Mr. Grant’s claim,” the statement read.
Harry v News Group is one of three phone hacking suits he has brought against British tabloid publishers.
Fancourt is currently hearing evidence from lawyers for Harry and three others against the Daily Mirror’s publisher over alleged illegal information-gathering dating back to the 1990s. Harry is due to testify in the case next month.
Another judge is currently reviewing whether cases brought by the Duke, Elton John, actress and model Elizabeth Hurley and others against the Daily Mail publisher should go to trial.