Harry Gets Boost in Libel Case as Tabloid Must Defend 'Defamatory' Article

Prince Harry's libel lawsuit against The Mail on Sunday got a boost on Friday as the British tabloid was told its article about his police protection had a defamatory meaning.

The judge's ruling will not bring the case to an end but means the newspaper must defend its coverage if it wants to avoid a payout.

The lawsuit revolves around an article published by the newspaper in February 2022 with the headline: "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."

Prince Harry, Meghan in Rain
A judge ruled on July 8, 2022, that The Mail on Sunday must defend a defamatory article written about Prince Harry. Above, Meghan Markle and Harry get caught in the rain on one of their final royal jobs at the Endeavour Fund Awards, in London on March 5, 2020. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Judge Matthew Nicklin ruled: "It may be possible to 'spin' facts in a way that does not mislead, but the allegation being made in the article was very much that the object was to mislead the public. That supplies the necessary element to make the meanings defamatory at common law.

"Finally, I should reiterate that the decision made in this judgment is solely concerned with the objective meaning of the Article published by the Defendant for the purposes of [Prince Harry's] defamation claim," he said. "This is very much the first phase in a libel claim. The next step will be for [The Mail on Sunday] to file a Defence to the claim."

The prince was stripped of his police protection after quitting royal duties in 2020 and had been fighting to get a team re-instated on visits to Britain. This culminated in him suing the U.K. government to try to force the Home Office to reconsider the decision, a case that remains ongoing.

However, an article about the saga in the Mail on Sunday in February 2022 led to a separate libel lawsuit filed by Harry against the tabloid—the same one famously sued by Meghan Markle successfully over a letter she sent her father.

The article revolved around a statement from a legal representative for the Duke of Sussex a month earlier which said Harry had offered to fund his police protection at a meeting with the royal family in January 2020.

The Mail accused Harry of misleading the public about the nature of the lawsuit, quoting a Home Office court filing that suggested the offer to pay was not contained in early legal discussions around the case.

The Home Office has asserted as recently as Thursday in a court filing that "there has never been an offer to fund" Harry's police protection made "to RAVEC," the Home Office committee that made the decision.

However, Harry's lawyers also said in the Home Office lawsuit that the prince believed the offer to pay he made to the royal family would be passed on to RAVEC.

A court filing by Harry's team from the lawsuit against the Home Office read: [Prince Harry's] offer was made at a meeting on 13 January 2020 at which members of [The Royal Household] were present and is also referred to in an email to [Queen Elizabeth II's aide] Sir Edward Young of 16 April 2020. There has been no explanation of why the offer was not conveyed."

The judge also summarized the newspaper's argument in his ruling: "The spin
was to present the Home Office as refusing to allow [Prince Harry] to pay for protection for himself and his family. The truth was that he did make an offer to pay, but that offer came in a witness statement in the legal proceedings. No offer had been made before the claim was commenced."

Harry's legal team in past court filings pointed to the fact the newspaper did not include the statement from his legal representative, which said his offer had initially been made not to the Home Office but to the royal family.

The 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. As is widely known, others who have left public office and have an inherent threat risk receive police protection at no cost to them."

The case has not yet been decided and will now progress to the next stage.

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