UK judge rules Prince Harry victim of phone hacking by Mirror Group

AFP , Friday 15 Dec 2023

A UK judge ruled on Friday that Prince Harry was a victim of phone hacking by journalists working for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), and awarded the royal £140,600 ($179,600) in damages.

Prince Harry
File photo: Britain s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, arrives to the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain s High Court, in central London on June 6, 2023. AFP


The decision is one in a number of legal cases brought by Harry against British media, with which the Duke of Sussex has long had a turbulent relationship.

High Court Justice Timothy Fancourt ruled in favour of Harry in 15 of the 33 sample articles that the prince submitted as evidence in his lawsuit against MGN, which publishes the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

He concluded that the newspapers carried out "extensive" phone hacking of celebrities between 2006 and 2011, even when a public inquiry into the conduct of the British press was ongoing.

Fancourt said Harry's personal phone had been targeted between 2003 and 2009 and that the 15 articles were "the product of phone hacking... or the product of other unlawful information gathering".

"I consider that his phone was only hacked to a modest extent, and that this was probably carefully controlled by certain people at each newspaper," Fancourt said.

Prince Harry said in a statement read outside court by his lawyer that the ruling was "vindicating and affirming".

A spokesperson for MGN said: "Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologise unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation."

Diana's death

Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, became the first British royal in over a century to take to the witness stand when he gave evidence in the trial.

The last time a royal had given evidence in court was in the 1890s, when the future king Edward VII took the stand in a slander trial.

Harry, 39, accused MGN of "industrial scale" phone hacking during emotional testimony in which he relived upsetting episodes of his life.

The prince argued he had been the victim of relentless and distressing media intrusion virtually his entire life.

Harry holds the media responsible for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a 1997 Paris car crash while she was being pursued by paparazzi.

He stood down from royal duties in early 2020 for a life in California with his American wife Meghan, in part for privacy reasons.

The prince and several other claimants alleged the MGN titles engaged in "illegal information gathering", including intercepting phone voice mails, to write dozens of stories about him.

The Duke of Sussex has launched legal action against several tabloid media groups, alongside barrages of attacks aimed at his family and the monarchy.

'Worthwhile price to pay'

"I've been told that slaying dragons will get you burned," he said in his statement.

"But in light of today's victory and the importance of doing what is needed for a free and honest press it's a worthwhile price to pay. The mission continues."

MGN had admitted to "some evidence" of unlawful information gathering, including for a story about Harry.

But it had denied intercepting voicemail and also argued that some claims were brought too late by Harry and the other claimants.

Allegations that tabloid journalists hacked into celebrities' phones first emerged two decades ago and prompted the Leveson inquiry into press conduct.

It found that British newspapers had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people" and led to the closure in 2011 of Britain's top-selling newspaper, the News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Friday's ruling concluded that senior MGN executives had "turned a blind eye" to phone hacking and blagging, in which journalists or private investigators obtain information by impersonation.

It renews scrutiny of high-profile British TV presenter Piers Morgan, who edited the Mirror from 1995 to 2004 and has long denied any knowledge of phone hacking.

Fancourt said he had accepted evidence that Morgan had been told about its use and noted that "no evidence was called by MGN to contradict it".

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