Prince Harry has become the first senior British royal to give evidence on a witness stand in 132 years, as his years-long fight against the UK’s tabloid press came to a head in a tense courtroom showdown on Tuesday.
Harry is suing a big British newspaper group, Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), alleging the publisher’s journalists hacked his phone and used other illicit means to gather information about his life between 1996 and 2009.
The Duke of Sussex brought to court an argument that he has previously made on television programs and in podcast interviews: that the media’s intrusion and tactics caused him significant distress and wrecked some of his closest relationships.
As the landmark hearing got underway at the High Court in London, Prince Harry answered questions in a measured, almost hushed tone. At one point, he was asked to raise his voice.
He faced forensic and detailed questioning from MGN’s lawyer, Andrew Green who probed him on the specifics of his claims and occasionally left him scrambling to recall sections of his written statement or find pieces of evidence.
Here’s what we learned as Harry began giving evidence on Tuesday.
Harry’s ‘distress’ at hands of press
The prince alleges that about 140 articles published in titles belonging to Mirror Group contained information gathered using unlawful methods, and 33 of those articles have been selected to be considered at the trial.
In the courtroom on Tuesday, Harry said that “every single article has caused me distress.”
“All of these articles played an important role – a destructive role – in my growing up,” Harry said. The newspapers in question were on constantly display “in every single palace, unfortunately,” while he was growing up. At school, fellow students and others would read the articles, he said. Harry described the level of coverage as “incredibly invasive.”
The newspaper group’s lawyer, Andrew Green, began by attempting to establish whether Harry remembered reading the articles in question at the time of publication. When the duke conceded he could not always recall, Green pressed him on how he could realistically argue they could have affected him so strongly. It was a theme to which Green would often return.
More detail in Harry’s witness statement
In a written statement entered into the court record on Tuesday, Harry expressed concern that his conversations with family and friends may have been intercepted. He noted that he and his brother, Prince William, “naturally discussed personal aspects of our lives as we trusted each other with the private information we shared.”
He said private information about his life was raised on voicemails left on the phones of his father Charles and his mother Diana.
Harry said that he would discuss “private and sensitive matters regarding our family and personal lives” on voicemails left on the phone of the then Kate Middleton, now the Princess of Wales, he said. The Duke listed a number of other friends with whom he had been in contact, including the late TV presenter Caroline Flack, in his witness statement.
He said he recalled “unusual mobile activity” relating to his voicemails that he dismissed at the time, but now alleges was caused by phone hacking.
“I remember on multiple occasions hearing a voicemail for the first time that wasn’t ‘new’,” he wrote. “I would simply put it down to perhaps a technical glitch, as mobile phones were still relatively new back then, or even just having too many drinks the night before (and having forgotten that I’d listened to it).”
Duke claims papers would try to wreck his relationships
Also in his written statement, Harry argued that the press actively tried to ruin his relationships. “I always felt as if the tabloids wanted me to be single, as I was much more interesting to them and sold more newspapers,” Harry wrote.
“Whilst they would, of course, report on my successes in life, it seemed to me that they took far greater pleasure in knocking me down, time and time again,” he added.
Harry claimed that papers would go about that task by putting “strain” on his relationships and creating distrust between him and his partners. He spoke regularly about one of his former girlfriends, Chelsy Davy, alleging journalists would find out about flight details to photograph her at airports, and would book rooms in the same hotels as the couple when they were on vacation.
The duke evidently believes that continues to be the case since his marriage to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. “This twisted objective is still pursued to this day even though I’m now married,” he wrote.
Harry accused of ‘total speculation’
The atmosphere in court was occasionally tense. “Are we not, Prince Harry, in the realms of total speculation,” Green asked Harry at one point on Tuesday, after an exchange over a story about the teen prince breaking his thumb. Green had quizzed the duke about which specific illicit means of newsgathering Harry was alleging.
“I’m not the one who wrote the article,” Harry replied.
“No, but you’re the one who’s bringing the claim,” Green said.
Earlier in the morning, when discussing Harry’s use of a landline phone to talk to his mother from school, Harry suggested that either that phone or Diana’s could have been hacked.
“That’s just speculation you’ve come up with now,” Green said in response.
An awkward appearance from a media-trained prince
There were times during the back-and-forth between Harry and Green when the prince appeared uncomfortable or unaware of the minutiae of his case.
Harry at one point joked that he was being put through a “workout” by having to repeatedly reach for bundles of evidence, stacked in folders beside him.
Green offered to arrange for someone to help the prince navigate the evidence, and Harry would often reply “If you say so,” when Green sought to establish details of the articles the prince’s team entered into evidence.
After a brief mid-morning recess, the judge asked Harry to raise his voice to ensure he could be heard throughout the courtroom, telling the duke that a number of observers in the courtroom had struggled to hear him.
The questioning was far more intense and detailed than anything Harry has experienced in the many television and podcast interviews he has given on the topic of press intrusion.
And Green sought to poke a number of holes in Harry’s argument, including that Harry was initially unaware of several specific stories, or that details in those stories could not have come through phone hacking as they had already been reported by other outlets.
What is the case about?
The Duke of Sussex and three other claimants representing dozens of celebrities are suing MGN, accusing its titles of obtaining private information by phone hacking and through other illicit means, including private investigators, between 1991 and 2011.
The trial started on May 10 and is expected to last seven weeks.
MGN is contesting most of the allegations, arguing in its court filings that some claims have been brought too late and that in all four cases, there is insufficient evidence of phone hacking.
UK tabloid apologises to Prince Harry on first day of new phone hacking trial
In court documents published last month, the publisher apologised for one instance of unlawful information gathering nearly 20 years ago. That incident involved a private investigator, who was paid £75 ($95) in 2004 by the Sunday People, a tabloid owned by the same group, to gather information about the Duke of Sussex while at a London nightclub. It repeated that apology in court on Tuesday.
Harry’s lawyer, David Sherborne, has said his claim against MGN, which covers incidences from 1995 to 2011, is “significant not just in terms of time span but in the range of activity it covers.”
Harry was subject to the most “intrusive methods of obtaining personal information,” Sherborne said, arguing that “no one should be subjected to that.” The “unlawful methods” were “habitual and widespread” among the journalists, Sherborne added.
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