Barely a month after winning a landmark phone-hacking lawsuit against a British publisher, Prince Harry on Friday withdrew an unrelated libel suit against the publisher of another tabloid paper, The Mail on Sunday.
The Daily Mail, a sister paper of The Mail on Sunday, reported that lawyers for Harry, the duke of Sussex, dropped his claim that he had been libeled in an article about his security arrangements after he and his wife, Meghan, split with the British royal family and moved to the United States in 2020.
The newspaper said that the decision to drop the case will make Harry liable for 250,000 pounds, or $316,000, in legal costs incurred by Associated Newspapers, which publishes The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Mail.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Harry said that following an unfavorable ruling last month on his motion to throw out part of the defense’s case, the duke had decided to focus on the safety of his family, “rather than these legal proceedings that give a continued platform to the Mail’s false claims all those years ago.”
The spokesman said legal costs in the case had yet to be calculated, and it was “premature to speculate” on Harry’s liability.
While a setback, Friday’s decision to withdraw the suit serves mainly to dramatize how much litigation the younger son of King Charles III is enmeshed in. Harry is continuing to pursue a legal challenge against Britain’s Home Office for downgrading his publicly funded police protection after he and Meghan stopped being “working royals.”
He is also still suing Associated Newspapers, as well as News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun, alleging that they hacked his cellphone and otherwise violated his privacy. These are similar charges to the ones on which Harry scored a victory against The Mirror last month, when a judge found that Harry and others were victims of “widespread and habitual” hacking.
This case against The Mail turned on a narrower issue: Did the newspaper libel him by asserting that he misled the public in the dispute over whether he and his family would still receive publicly funded police protection?
Lawyers for Harry argued that the article, published on Feb. 19, 2022, erroneously asserted that the duke did not offer to pay for security out of his own pocket until after he had filed a suit against the Home Office for reducing his protection. He first made that offer, they said, at a meeting with senior family members at Sandringham, the country residence of Queen Elizabeth II, in January 2020.
Harry’s lawyers also argued that the Mail article described the duke as having mobilized a “P.R. machine,” which they said “improperly and cynically tried to manipulate and confuse public opinion” about the security dispute.
But in a ruling on Dec. 8, Justice Matthew Nicklin said that lawyers for The Mail had a real chance to prove that the article reflected an “honest opinion,” as opposed to being libelous. The judge wrote, “The defendant may well submit that this was a master class in the art of ‘spinning.’”
Among the many lingering effects of Harry’s bitter rupture with the royal family, his security status been among the most stubborn, and generated the most litigation. Last May, a court rejected his petition to pay privately for protection from the Metropolitan Police when he and his family visit Britain. Lawyers for the Home Office contended it was improper for police officers, in effect, to be hired out as private security guards.
Harry is still awaiting a ruling on whether the Home Office — through its Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures, known by the acronym Ravec — was entitled to downgrade his police protection after he stopped being a working royal.