Prince Harry is expected to give evidence at the High Court today over alleged unlawful information gathering by journalists working for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) – in what will be a landmark appearance in the witness box from a senior royal.
Harry, 38, is suing the publisher, attempting to prove that reporters for the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People titles were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators, between 1996 and 2010.
MGN is contesting the claims and has either denied or not admitted each of them. The publisher also argues that some of the claimants have brought their legal action too late.
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The Duke of Sussex is expected to face cross-examination from the publisher’s lawyers today.
On Monday, his own lawyer David Sherborne made his opening arguments, claiming that Mirror journalists listened to voicemail messages from Princess Diana while Piers Morgan was editor of the newspaper.
He also told the court how alleged intrusion caused “mistrust” between Harry and Prince William, and that “the ups and downs and ins and outs” of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy “were all revealed and picked apart by the three Mirror Group titles” – something that was “clearly driven by unlawful activity”.
There was “no time” in Harry’s life “when he was safe from this activity”, the barrister said, adding: “Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds and there was no protection from this unlawful information gathering.”
Harry did not attend Monday’s court session – much to the “surprise” of the judge, Mr Justice Fancourt – as he only flew into the UK from Los Angeles on Sunday night, having celebrated his daughter Lilibet’s second birthday earlier that day, Mr Sherborne said.
The judge said he had given a direction earlier in the trial that witnesses should be available the day before they were due to give evidence, in case the legal teams’ opening speeches ran short.
The Duke of Sussex’s appearance in the witness box will mark the first for a senior royal at the High Court since 1891, when then heir-to-the-throne Prince Edward was called to give evidence during the Royal Baccarat Scandal – a case about cheating at cards.
What is Harry claiming?
Harry alleges about 140 articles published between 1996 and 2010 contained information gathered using unlawful methods, and 33 of these have been selected to be considered at the trial.
Mr Sherborne told the court that the 147 articles were a “fraction” of all the articles written about the duke’s private life during that time, adding that MGN disclosed “almost 2,500” articles published about him throughout that period.
During his opening, the barrister claimed that details about the prince’s life were “a story too good not to publish”.
He said: “It’s clear that stories about Prince Harry’s private life drove sales, it’s obvious.”
Articles about the royal were the “ends” that “justify the means for the defendant”, he said. “The unlawful means which is what this claim is about.”
Mr Sherborne continued: “Every facet of his life, even the revelations of the ups and downs of his first serious relationships with Ms Davy, is still splashed across the paper as an exclusive.
The barrister later described Harry as “one of the most written about individuals in those newspapers” for several years.
MGN’s response – and its earlier apology
In the afternoon, MGN’s lawyer, Andrew Green KC, had his turn to address the court, and said there was no evidence to support the duke’s claims.
It was “obvious” that security arrangements around Harry “were like very few on Earth”, he said, and that any journalist “would know they would be taking an absolutely enormous risk” in carrying out any unlawful activity around the royal.
He also dismissed the claim that Princess Diana’s voicemails were hacked as “total speculation” and “without any evidential basis whatsoever”.
Harry’s evidence will come a month after the trial opened in May, when, on the first day, the MGN lawyer said the publisher “unreservedly apologises” to the duke for one instance of unlawful information gathering.
Mr Green said it was admitted that a private investigator was instructed, by an MGN journalist at The People, to unlawfully gather information about Harry’s activities at the Chinawhite nightclub one night in February 2004. “Otherwise, the specified allegations are denied, or in a few cases not admitted,” he added.
Harry one of dozens of complainants
The trial has previously been focused on witnesses and evidence relating to “generic” allegations against MGN, while this week the attention has turned to the individual claimants.
As well as Harry, there are three other representative claimants involved in the case: Coronation Street actor Michael Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, who is best known for playing Kevin Webster; Hollyoaks and former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson; and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.
Mr Green said voicemail interception was denied in all four cases and that there was “no evidence or no sufficient evidence”.
The barrister continued: “There is some evidence of the instruction of third parties to engage in other types of unlawful information gathering in respect of each of the claimants, save for Mr Turner whose claim is entirely denied, and MGN has made pleaded admissions in respect thereof.
“MGN unreservedly apologises for all such instances of unlawful information gathering, and assures the claimants that such conduct will never be repeated.”
Harry and the other three are representative of more than 100 claimants overall, including singer and TV star Cheryl, ex-footballer and pundit Ian Wright, and the estate of the late George Michael.
At the start of the trial in May, an MGN spokesperson said: “Where historical wrongdoing has taken place we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully.”
Over two-and-a-half weeks, the court has heard from a former MGN chief executive denying involvement in covering up unlawful practices, while an ex-director and former lawyer at the publisher both defended their accounts of when they say they became aware of such activity.
The trial is due to conclude by the end of June, with Mr Justice Fancourt expected to give his written ruling later in the year.
Harry is also bringing separate claims against other newspaper publishers – News Group Newspapers (NGN) and Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) – over allegations of unlawful information gathering, which they have denied.
Harry In Court – watch special programme on Sky News tonight at 9pm