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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Smooth lawyer to the stars they call the Orange Sherbet … he Suits you Harry, Sir!

SILKY BUT NO SILK: Lawyer David Sherborne


At 9.55 last Tuesday morning a Range Rover swept up to the Royal Courts of Justice and out stepped the Duke of Sussex – to be greeted with an encouraging pat on the back from Orange Sherbet.


Drat! I’ve done it again, lowered the tone. From Insight to Viz in a single sentence.


Mind you, I didn’t bestow that nickname on David Sherborne, the perma-tanned celebrity lawyer who represents Prince Harry in his mud-wrestle with Mirror Group Newspapers.


That was his fellow barristers at Gray’s Inn, Holborn. At least, according to Harry Mount, who was one of them and is now a writer and Editor of The Oldie.


Sherborne, 53, is charming, sleek as a mink’s pelt, with a workout waistline, tailored suits – albeit fashionably too small – and carefully teased bouffant hair. (His tresses remind me of Richard Desmond’s observation that “successful people all have posh hair.”)


Sherborne could have stepped straight from the pages of a script for a Hollywood legal drama. Suits, for example: the show that Harry’s wife Meghan starred in a few years ago.


The list of his high-profile clients takes in some of the most famous names in showbusiness, sport and politics. Many of them are contained in his entry on the website of 5RB chambers (it stands for 5, Raymond Buildings, their address).


He has acted for Harry’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales; Cherie and Tony Blair; Donald and Melania Trump; Sir Paul McCartney; Sir Elton John; the Beckhams and Mike Tyson. Whenever a celebrity has an axe to grind, they turn to Sherborne, perhaps because he belongs in their world.


Twice-divorced father of three Sherborne, who specialises in reputation management and pioneered pre-publication injunctions – so no ally of newspapers – is said to be a friendly man, popular among barristers who know him. He is certainly clever. He gained a First in Classics from New College, Oxford and is author of The Law of Privacy and the Media, published by Oxford University Press in 2002.


And yet he is not a KC. Some put that down to jealousy among the stuffed shirts who run the legal profession; others say his showboating style does not go down well.


I was once told by a (then) QC that you had to demonstrate that you were made of the right stuff before the selection panel would consider you to take silk, as becoming a King’s Counsel is known: chair a dull committee or two, appear at a public inquiry, do a bit of Pro Bono.


But Sherborne has mostly followed the money. However, he earned £220,000 for his part in the Leveson Inquiry into Press ethics following the hacking scandal at the News of the World, and his questioning came close to triggering an eruption by former Daily Mail Editor Paul Dacre of the sort that his staff used to call the vagina monologues.


Harry, 38, said he brought his privacy case after “bumping into” Sherborne at a party in France while he and Meghan were visiting Sir Elton John.


Sherborne apparently has a tendency to “p*ss off” judges. He certainly managed it with Mr Justice Fancourt, the judge hearing the Prince Harry hacking trial, who confessed himself “a little surprised” that Harry was a no-show on the first day, despite his direction that all witnesses should be there a day before they were due to give evidence.


Just those three words, “a little surprised”, constitute a Jocelyn Stevens-style, typewriter-hurling, apoplectic bollocking in the rarefied atmosphere of the Royal Courts of Justice.


“I hear what Your Lordship says,” replied Sherborne, in the legal profession’s version of contrition.


So how is he doing? Well, so far, I see no smoking gun. Though the burden of proof is lower than it would be in a criminal case, Harry, who risks being forever known as The Complainant, hardly seems to have landed a glove on the Mirror Group.


There is a nasty whiff of entitlement, too. Before his wedding, Harry allegedly told staff trying to rein in expectations: “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.” Now he seems to think that merely because he says he was hacked, it is true.


In one exchange with the Mirror’s brief, Andrew Green, KC, a barrister known as “a beast in court”, Harry made the point that a certain article was related to a certain invoice.


“And so what?” asked Green.


This made the article suspicious, Harry explained.


“And so what?” Green asked again.


Or, to put it another way: Where’s your proof, lad?


Harry’s uncle, Earl Spencer, also seemed not to have grasped this legal principle. Spencer, 59, tweeted that Harry had a strong case against the Mirror because it had previously admitted other phone hacking claims. But he provided not a shred of proof about the latest allegations.


The case continues and, no doubt, so will Harry’s quixotic tilt at Fleet Street windmills.


The judge has already indicated that he might take some time to reach his decision but Harry’s ordeal is over. At the end of his eight hours of cross examination, Sherborne asked him how it had made him feel. He hesitated and some observers detected a catch in his voice as he finally whispered: “It’s a lot.”


The stress continues for former Mirror Editor Piers Morgan – though you wouldn’t know it from his breezy manner – and for Daily Express Editor Gary Jones, both of whom have been linked to unlawful information gathering.


In the meantime, untold damage is being done to the institution of the monarchy and Meghan’s brave knight errant seems not to care.


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Harry repeatedly told the court of his paranoia as stories about him appeared in the newspapers. Were his friends betraying him?


Well, probably, Harry. An old pal of mine told me this eye-opening tale last week.


He was working on the Sun newsdesk and took a call from a child who sounded “very posh”.


“He said he was a classmate of Prince William at Eton,” said my friend. “Apparently, HRH was rather miffed as kids were cutting the William Wales name tags out of his underpants as souvenirs.”


The children in Wills’s year were warned that if the phantom name tag snipper were caught he would be expelled.


“I told the kid it was a great story but, as he was under 16, I couldn’t pay him,” said my friend.


The young informant said: “That’s quite all right, the Sun has set up a fund which they pay my tips into and I can access it when I’m 18.”


It’s enough to make anyone paranoid.


*****

Who’d buy a newspaper nowadays, even one as respected and commercially progressive as the Daily Telegraph?


True, it is still making a profit. Latest figures for 2021 show revenues of £245 million. But a slump in both print and digital advertising means they are still 8 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.


The group’s titles, including The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator, once edited by Boris Johnson, are valued at between £452 million and £586 million.


But one potential bidder said: “It’s a different world now, we all know you can’t make a living out of news any more.”


The titles are for sale because the group’s parent company was put into receivership by Lloyds Banking Group, which was in dispute with the owners, the feuding Barclay family, over a £1 billion debt.


The Daily Telegraph since 2020 has kept its circulation figures secret but back in 2019 it was selling fewer than 318,000 and it is fanciful to imagine that that figure has risen.


It may turn out to be a trophy purchase by a rich man who wants a voice for his Right-wing views.


But among the early front-runners to make a bid is Daily Mail and General Trust, whose boss is Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere, 55. But some doubt whether the business can afford it.


David Montgomery, former News of the World Editor and Chief Executive of the Mirror Group, is touted as a possible buyer, as is Mediahuis, the Belgian publishing group whose chairman is Murdoch MacLennan, a former Chief Executive of the Telegraph.


Interestingly, The Times last week reported one senior Telegraph figure as saying: “There’s a strong ‘anyone but MacLennan’ vibe among the staff.”


Whoever wins will have his work cut out. Still, running newspapers has lately been a triumph of hope over experience.


*****

Is Greta Thunberg turning into Nora Batty, of Last of the Summer Wine? The poor girl has always had the look of a battleaxe. But weekend pictures of her latest climate protest in Sweden show that she now has the thick, wrinkly stockings, too.