By Michael Holden and Sam Tobin
LONDON (Reuters) -Prince Harry’s libel claim over an article about his security arrangements is “built on sand”, lawyers for publisher Associated Newspapers told a London court on Friday as it fought the British royal’s bid to win the case without going to trial.
Harry, King Charles’ younger son, sued Associated Newspapers last year over an article in its Mail on Sunday newspaper that alleged he offered to pay for police protection only after bringing a separate legal fight against Britain’s government.
The article accused Harry, 38, of attempting to mislead the public about his legal fight with the government over his publicly-funded protection, which was withdrawn after he stepped back from royal duties in 2020.
London’s High Court ruled in July that the Mail report was defamatory – paving the way for Harry to take the case forward against one of Britain’s biggest media publishers.
Harry’s lawyers told Judge Matthew Nicklin on Friday that Harry first offered to pay for police protection at a crisis meeting with the late Queen Elizabeth, his father and brother Prince William at the royal Sandringham estate in January 2020.
Justin Rushbrooke said Associated Newspapers had no factual basis for its defence and asked the court to rule in Harry’s favour without the need for a trial.
However, Associated Newspapers’ lawyer Andrew Caldecott said it has a strong argument of “honest opinion”, and that Harry’s bid to win the case without a trial was “totally without merit”.
Caldecott said a statement issued by Harry’s representatives in January 2022 – a month before the article at the centre of the lawsuit – falsely claimed the government had refused Harry’s offer to pay for police protection.
He also said Harry has admitted that he did not offer to pay in correspondence with the British government before starting legal action, adding: “This whole case is built on sand.”
A ruling on Harry’s application to win the case without a trial is expected at a later date.
The case is one of several brought in recent years by Harry and and his American wife Meghan against the tabloid press, having cited media intrusion as part of their reason for stepping back from royal duties and moving to California.
Later this month, there is due to be a hearing in another case Harry has brought with and others against Associated Newspapers, which will try to throw out allegations of phone-tapping and other privacy breaches.
In May, his lawsuit against the Daily Mirror newspaper over accusations of phone-hacking will go to trial, with Harry likely to give evidence.
He is also suing News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the now-defunct News of the World and The Sun, for alleged phone-hacking.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Sam TobinEditing by Frances Kerry)