LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry lost a preliminary round Friday in his libel case against the publisher of the Daily Mail tabloid over an article that said he tried to hide his efforts to retain publicly funded protection in the U.K. after walking away from his role as a working member of the royal family.
A judge at the High Court in London ruled that Associated Newspapers Ltd. can continue to argue that the story reflected an “honest opinion” about the facts of the case and therefore was not libelous. The publisher, which is the defendant in the case, has a “real prospect” of showing that public statements issued on Harry’s behalf were misleading, the judge wrote in his decision.
“I anticipate that, at trial, the defendant may well submit that this was a masterclass in the art of ‘spinning,’" Justice Matthew Nicklin wrote. “And, the defendant argues, it was successful in misleading and/or confusing the public.”
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the consequences of the ruling.
The ruling comes just a day after another judge concluded three days of arguments — mostly behind closed doors — over whether the government unfairly stripped Harry of his security detail after he and his family moved to the U.S. in 2020.
Harry, 39, the younger son of King Charles III, is challenging the government's decision to provide security on a case-by-case basis when he and his family visit Britain. Harry has said hostility toward him and his wife on social media and relentless hounding by the news media threaten their safety.
The Mail on Sunday and Mail Online published an article in February 2022 about the issue headlined: “How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over police bodyguards a secret … then — just minutes after the story broke — his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.”
Harry claims the article was “fundamentally inaccurate” and the newspaper libeled him when it suggested he lied in his initial public statements about his case challenging the government.
Associated Newspapers Ltd. argued the article expressed an “honest opinion" and did not seriously harm Harry's reputation.
Nicklin previously ruled the article was defamatory but had not considered whether the story was accurate or in the public interest.
The government, meanwhile, has defended its decision to withdraw full protection for Harry because he had stepped down from his role as a senior working member of the family. It said he was treated fairly and provided with security occasionally when he visits.
Another judge earlier this year shot down Harry's request to privately reimburse London’s police force to guard him when he comes to Britain. A government lawyer had argued officers shouldn’t be used as “private bodyguards for the wealthy.”
The dispute with the Mail is one of four lawsuits Harry has pending against publishers of British tabloids in his ongoing battle with the press.
His three other cases allege that journalists at the Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Sun used unlawful means, such as deception, phone hacking or hiring private investigators, to try to dig up dirt about him.
Follow the AP’s coverage of Prince Harry at https://apnews.com/hub/prince-harry
Danica Kirka And Brian Melley, The Associated Press