Prince Harry testifies in UK court against tabloids accused of phone hacking

FILE - Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, arrives to give evidence at the Mirror Group phone hacking trial at the Rolls Building of the High Court on June 6, 2023, in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Prince Harry stepped into courtroom witness box Tuesday to hold Britain’s tabloid press accountable for its "destructive" role throughout his life. But he soon found himself being held to account by a newspaper's lawyer for how he could blame his anguish on articles he couldn't remember reading.

The Duke of Sussex became the first senior member of the royal family to testify in over a century as he held a Bible in his right hand and, in a soft voice, swore to tell the "whole truth and nothing but the truth" in the High Court in London.

Harry accuses the publisher of the Daily Mirror of using unlawful techniques on an "industrial scale" to score front-page scoops on his life.

Sitting in the witness box, dressed in a dark suit and tie, Harry told Mirror Group Newspapers attorney Andrew Green that he had "experienced hostility from the press since I was born." The prince accused the tabloids of playing "a destructive role in my growing-up."

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Harry was forced almost immediately to acknowledge that he wasn't sure he could recall the 33 specific articles he was complaining about from the thousands he said had been written about him.

"Is it realistic, when you have been the subject of so much press intrusion by so many press, both domestic and international, to attribute specific distress to a particular article from 20 years ago, which you may not have seen at the time?" Green asked.

"It isn’t a specific article, it is all of the articles," Harry said. "Every single article has caused me distress."

The case dates from 1996 to 2011 — a period when phone hacking by tabloid journalists was later discovered to be widespread. It led to later revelations of more intrusive means such as phone tapping, home bugging and obtaining bank and medical records by deception.

Harry said the articles caused him to become depressed and paranoid, distrustful of friends, who he feared were feeding information to the media. His circle of friends shrank, relationships fell apart and he felt constantly in the glare of the journalists who were shaping the narrative of his life.

"I genuinely feel that in every relationship that I’ve ever had – be that with friends, girlfriends, with family or with the army, there’s always been a third party involved, namely the tabloid press," Harry said in a written witness statement released Tuesday.

Green asked Harry to identify what evidence he had of phone hacking in specific articles, and Harry repeatedly said he'd have to ask that question of the journalist who wrote it. He continually insisted that the manner in which information had been obtained was highly or incredibly suspicious.

He said some of the journalists had been known for hacking or that there were invoices to third parties, including private investigators known for snooping, around the time of the articles.

When asked how reporters could have hacked his phone for an article about his 12th birthday — a time when he admitted he didn't have a mobile phone — he suggested they may have hacked the phone of his mother, the late Princess Diana.

"That’s just speculation you’ve come up with now," Green suggested.

The attorney then pointed out that a reference in the same article to him taking his parents' divorce badly was obvious.

"Like most children, I think, yes," Harry said.

But the prince said it was not legitimate to report such information and "the methods in which it was obtained seem incredibly suspicious."

Green then pointed out that his mother previously made public comments to reporters about the difficulties her children faced after the divorce.

The 38-year-old son of King Charles III is the first senior British royal since the 19th century to face questioning in a court. An ancestor, the future King Edward VII, appeared as a witness in a trial over a gambling scandal in 1891.

Harry has made a mission of holding the U.K. media to account for what he sees as their hounding of him and his family.

Setting out the prince’s case in court Monday, his lawyer, David Sherborne, said that from Harry's childhood, British newspapers used hacking and subterfuge to mine snippets of information that could be turned into front-page scoops.

He said that stories about Harry were big sellers for the newspapers, and around 2,500 articles had covered all facets of his life during the time period of the case — 1996 to 2011 — from injuries at school to experimenting with marijuana and cocaine, to ups and downs with girlfriends.

"Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds" for the tabloids, the lawyer said.

Hacking — the practice of guessing or using default security codes to listen to celebrities’ cellphone voice messages — was widespread at British tabloids in the early years of this century. It became an existential crisis for the industry after the revelation in 2011 that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a slain 13-year-old girl. Owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the paper and several of his executives faced criminal trials.

Mirror Group has paid more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims, and printed an apology to phone hacking victims in 2015.

But the newspaper denies or hasn't admitted any of Harry's claims.

Green said Monday there was "simply no evidence capable of supporting the finding that the Duke of Sussex was hacked, let alone on a habitual basis."

Harry’s fury at the U.K. press — and sometimes at his own royal relatives for what he sees as their collusion with the media — runs through his memoir, "Spare," and interviews conducted by Oprah Winfrey and others.

He has blamed paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, and said harassment and intrusion by the U.K. press, including allegedly racist articles, led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee to the U.S. in 2020 and leave royal life behind.

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