Prince Harry appeared before London’s High Court on Monday and Tuesday claiming that an article about him in a British tabloid run by the Mirror Group newspaper contained information obtained through illegal means. If the royals’ claim turns out to be true, it could prove an industrial-scale phone hack at one of Britain’s biggest newspaper groups.
Publication Date: 7 June 2023 – 19:00
During two days on the witness stand at London’s High Court, Prince Harry was the subject of tabloid interest, amassing dozens of stories dating back to the early days of his life.
The Duke of Sussex’s 148 articles documenting his mother, Princess Diana’s school visits, an affair, a phone altercation with ex-girlfriend Chelsea Davie, and an alleged drug use case, all contain details obtained by journalists illegally. claims to have been. .
The cumulative impact of disturbing articles over a lifetime has fueled the sheer amount of paranoia and feelings of inability to trust even the doctors, which the royal family spoke of in witness statements.
A lawyer for the Mirror Group Newspaper (MGN) said, “The content of the article was acquired through legitimate means, such as buying information from the prince’s acquaintances, reprinting information already published in other newspapers, or holding a press briefing by royal staff.”
Prince Harry said the stories could all be linked to features of illegal intelligence gathering, including mysterious missed calls, voice messages suggesting phone hacking, and repeated evidence of journalists paying private investigators.
Rarely are such allegations brought to trial. The legal powers and vast funds of many UK media companies act as an effective deterrent. MGN has awarded between approximately 100 million and approximately 600 claimants for obtaining articles through phone hacking and other illegal means.
But it’s even rarer for members of the royal family to testify in court.
He offers a unique profile of the case, suggestions for a personal ax to grind, deep pockets of his own, and an abundance of potential evidence. Someone like Prince Harry is in the unique position of being the target of a large number of tabloid stories for a considerable period of time, says Professor Paul Wragg, director of Hacked Off, a campaign group supporting victims of media abuse.
In this case, Prince Harry is the most famous of more than 100 people who sued MGN, publisher of the tabloids Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, for rampant illegal activities between 1991 and 2011.
The royal family is one of four claimants currently being tried in the trial as a representative case.
Elizabeth Cook’s Court Painter Sketch of Andrew Green KC cross-examination at the High Court in central London, Wednesday 7 June 2023. Elizabeth Cook, AP
Traditionally, British tabloid newspapers have a unique place in the national discourse. Adrian Bingham, professor of modern British history at the University of Sheffield, says these books are read nationally and actually set the agenda for public conversation. Historically, they have been at the center of popular culture.
The length of time an article submitted as evidence was published coincides with the peak of the highly competitive tabloid market, where competition always trumps ethics, Bingham adds. The scoop was everything for editors. I had little self-control.
The British public was shocked in 2011 when The Guardian newspaper revealed that reporters from Rupert Murdoch’s News of The World newspaper had hampered the police investigation into the disappearance of missing schoolgirl Millie Dowler by illegally tapping her voicemail messages. .
Further investigation revealed that journalists had hacked the phones of victims of the 2005 London bombings, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and numerous celebrities, politicians and members of the royal family.
A criminal case has been filed which has seen three journalists and editors of the News of the World convicted of illegally obtaining confidential information. Others convicted were private detectives and police officers.
Wragg adds that the 2011-12 judicial open inquiry presided over by Justice Leveson is based on the premise that all illegal activity taking place within the newsroom was committed by a limited number of individuals.
MGN claims that Prince Harry missed the six-year claim deadline, but does not deny that he engaged in illegal practices. Prior to trial this week, the publisher apologized “outrageously” to the royal family for one instance of illegal information gathering.
However, the Duke of Sussex and other claimants seek to show that practices such as phone hacking occur on an industrial scale and not just in one newspaper group.
The trial for MGN is the first of three things the royal family wants to bring. He and other claimants are still waiting to hear whether the court will allow two separate cases against the parent company of The Sun and Daily Mail tabloids to be brought to trial.
Prince Harry is certainly a nominal figure, but what we’re talking about is hundreds of individuals claiming there have been a significant number of breaches of the law over a long period of time, says Wragg.
If true, says Wragg, the question of media regulation and the appropriateness of media regulation in this country will be raised again.
After the prince’s testimony on Tuesday, the defense said he had not presented a single piece of evidence proving that his phone had been hacked by reporters working for MGN.
The royal family said it was because the reporters in question used “burner phones” that could destroy call records.
The case continues.
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