Prince Harry has accepted substantial damages and an apology from a news agency that took aerial photographs of his Cotswolds home, forcing him and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, to move out.
In a high court statement, lawyers for the Duke of Sussex said Splash News and Picture Agency, described as a well-known paparazzi agency, flew a chartered helicopter over the Oxfordshire property, photographing “the living area and dining area of the home and directly into the bedroom”. The property was privately rented by Harry and Meghan.
Photographs and videos were syndicated, and published by the Times and other media outlets, the court was told.
The publication “very seriously undermined the safety and security” of the couple, forcing them to move out, the duke’s lawyers told Mr Justice Warby.
Prince Harry took legal action over a claim for misuse of private information that breached his privacy. The court heard that Splash had agreed to pay a substantial sum, which has not been disclosed, in damages and legal costs, and had apologised.
The prince applied for permission to have a statement announcing the terms of the out-of-court settlement read in court, laying down a firm marker in his fight to protect the privacy of his family.
The statement said: “On 9 January 2019, Splash chartered a helicopter for the purpose of taking photographs and recording video footage of the duke’s private home in Oxfordshire. The property had been chosen by the duke himself and his wife given the high level of privacy it afforded, given its position in a secluded area surrounded by private farmland away from any areas to which photographers have access.
‘The helicopter flew over the home at a low altitude allowing Splash to take photographs of and into the living area and dining area of the home and directly into the bedroom. The photographs were taken for commercial gain and syndicated for that purpose. As a result, the photographs were published by the Times newspaper and elsewhere online by a number of other media outlets. No consent was given to the action taken by Splash. The duke had to engage his solicitors to take steps to try and secure the removal of the photographs from these websites.
“The syndication and publication of the photographs very seriously undermined the safety and security of the duke and the home to the extent that they are no longer able to live at the property.”
The court heard that Harry’s lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis LLP, wrote to Splash immediately after the photographs appeared in national media outlets on 11 January 2019. Splash has now undertaken to desist selling or issuing the photographs or similar pictures. It has also undertaken not to repeat using aerial means to take further photographs or video of the duke’s private home.
At a hearing last week Harry’s barrister, Ian Helme, said the agency did not oppose the making of a statement in open court but had raised “quibbles” about its wording. Helme said Splash objected to the part of the statement that said the Sussexes moved out the the property because of the photographs, arguing that the Sun and Daily Mail had already published similar photographs and that it would be “unfair to pin this all on Splash”.
However, granting permission for the “unilateral statement” made on Harry’s behalf to be read in open court, Senior Master Barbara Fontaine ruled that “the evidence supports the position” that the photographs in question “did undermine in a serious way the safety and security of the applicant and his wife.”
A statement from the Sussex household said: “The Duke of Sussex acknowledges and welcomes the formal apology from Splash News and Picture Agency as referenced in the statement in open court today.”
A spokeswoman for Prince Harry said: “The duke was awarded a significant sum towards damages and legal fees, which will be put towards a donation to charity and covering the duke’s legal costs.”
Harry is the latest member of the royal family to turn to the courts for redress over privacy and other issues. In 2017 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were awarded €100,000 (£91,000) in damages and interest against the French celebrity magazine Closer and two photographers. A French court ruled that photos taken of Kate topless on holiday in Provence were an invasion of the couple’s privacy. In a letter read to the court, Prince William said the case was “particularly shocking because it reminded us of the harassment that led to the death of my mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.”
The Queen has twice sued the Sun for breach of copyright. In 1988 the paper reached an out-of-court settlement after publishing a stolen photograph showing the Duchess of York and her daughter Princess Beatrice that the family had planned to use on their Christmas card. In 1993 the paper reached an out-of-court settlement after publishing the leaked text of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast.
In 2003 the Queen was granted an injunction to prevent the Daily Mirror publishing further accounts by an undercover reporter who worked as a palace servant.
Diana started legal action against the Daily Mirror in 1993 when it published photographs taken with a hidden camera of her exercising in a gym.
In 2006 Prince Charles won a privacy claim against the Mail on Sunday over a leaked journal in which he described Chinese leaders at the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 as “appalling old waxworks”.