By Sam Tobin
LONDON (Reuters) - British actor Hugh Grant's claims that journalists at the Sun used private investigators to tap his phone and burgle his house can proceed to trial, but his allegations about voicemail interception were made too late, London’s High Court ruled on Friday.
Grant, alongside King Charles' son Prince Harry, is suing Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers (NGN) for widespread alleged unlawful information gathering that he says was committed on behalf of its tabloid, the Sun.
Judge Timothy Fancourt said in a written ruling on Friday that Grant's allegations of voicemail interception – widely known as "phone-hacking" – were outside a six-year time limit for legal action.
But the judge said the question of whether Grant's allegations of "landline tapping, bugging, blagging, burglary and instructions to private investigators to do any of those things" were brought too late must be determined at a trial due to take place in January 2024.
An NGN spokesperson said the publisher was pleased that Grant's phone-hacking claim against the Sun was thrown out by the court.
"NGN strongly denies the various historical allegations of unlawful information gathering contained in what remains of Mr Grant's claim," the added.
Grant said in a statement: "I am pleased that my case will be allowed to go to trial, which is what I have always wanted – because it is necessary that the truth comes out about the activities of The Sun.
"As my case makes clear, the allegations go far wider and deeper than voicemail interception."
NGN had also asked the judge to throw out Harry's lawsuit at a hearing in April but a ruling in his case is not expected until after a further hearing in July, at which Harry will ask for permission to rely on an alleged "secret agreement" between Buckingham Palace and senior figures at NGN.
PRESS REFORM CAMPAIGNER
Grant – famous for film comedies such as "Love Actually" and "Notting Hill" – has become a prominent campaigner on press reform since the phone-hacking scandal emerged.
He previously brought a lawsuit against NGN in relation to the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which was settled in 2012.
His latest lawsuit alleged Sun reporters used private investigators to tap his landline phone, place listening and tracking devices on his house and car, burgle his property and obtain his private information by deception.
NGN denies the allegations and its lawyers argued at April's hearing that it was "unreal" for Grant to have not known enough to bring a lawsuit in relation to the Sun earlier than he did.
Friday's ruling comes amid an ongoing trial concerning allegations of unlawful information gathering brought by Harry and others against Mirror Group Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People. MGN strongly denies the allegations.
Harry is due to give evidence in person in early June, the first British royal to do so since the 19th century.
(Reporting by Sam Tobin and Michael Holden; Editing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)