- By Dominic Casciani
- Home and legal correspondent
Next week Prince Harry will become the most senior royal in modern times to step into the witness box as he sues Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over phone hacking and illegal intrusion into his private life.
The publisher admits phone hacking once took place at its newspapers – but denies that the Duke of Sussex was ever a target.
The judge will examine in minute detail 33 sample stories published in the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People – part of 147 that the Duke of Sussex’s lawyers say were the fruits of illegal newsgathering between 1996 and 2010.
MGN has told the court that in the vast majority of the sample, it can show the story was legitimately sourced. The judge will decide who is right.
In the case of five stories however, it’s not giving a full alternative account and is telling Prince Harry to “prove it”.
Also, MGN has admitted that on one occasion in 2004 a private investigator was instructed to unlawfully gather information relating to Prince Harry’s conduct in a nightclub – but this incident isn’t part of his claim for breach of privacy.
Here’s a summary of some of the stories that Harry alleges were obtained through hacking:
Stories of the young prince
The earliest allegation to be tested dates from 16 September 1996 when the Daily Mirror reported “DIANA SO SAD ON HARRY’S BIG DAY”. The story revealed the prince’s mother had spent just 20 minutes with him on his 12th birthday, which came weeks after his parents’ divorce. The Mirror said the young prince was “believed to be taking the royal divorce badly”.
There are other stories about the child prince. The Mirror reported in 2000 that the now 15-year-old Harry was going rock climbing rather than attending a gala pageant for the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday.
MGN is expected to argue both these examples that the information was in the public domain already, not reasonably private or simply trivial. Team Harry will say stories like these can be linked to records of payments to private investigators.
Prince Harry says unlawful intrusion followed him, quite literally, on to the playing fields of Eton.
Two stories discuss sporting injuries. The Daily Mirror reported in November 20000 Harry had had “a minor operation” on his arm after a football-related injury at Eton, detailing specific advice doctors are said to have given the 16-year-old.
Eleven months later, the Sunday Mirror reported in a story headlined “RUGGER OFF, HARRY” that doctors had ordered the prince to stop playing rugby because of a back injury.
Both of these stories include what appears to be private medical information – but according to trial documents, MGN’s team look set to argue the details were either provided by the Palace or essentially public knowledge at the school.
Some of the 33 stories cover internal family affairs. One, from The People in December 2003, details a row between Harry and Prince William over the behaviour of their late mother’s former butler Paul Burrell.
At the time, the former member of the household was being accused of selling stories about Princess Diana. The People suggested the brothers had fallen out over what to do, with Harry “furious” with William. Harry is quoted as having privately branded the butler a “two-faced s***”.
Court documents show the Mirror Group is expected to say that while some of the information was private, there was an overwhelming public interest in reporting it – and their source was legitimate.
Some of the trial’s focus will be on the well-known stories about drinking and drugs – something Prince Harry has since talked about in his autobiography.
One Sunday Mirror story, from January 2002, reported the then Prince Charles had “given Harry a stern warning” for smoking cannabis.
The next day, the Daily Mirror’s headline read “HARRY’S COCAINE ECSTASY AND GHB PARTIES”, before going on to reveal the 17-year-old prince was “very fed up and very cheesed off” that he was now being chaperoned. MGN is expected to defend its reporting saying the stories were in the public interest and that they had “a variety of legitimate routes and sources” for them.
The largest chunk of articles concern the prince’s love life.
“HARRY IS A CHELSY FAN”, reported the Daily Mirror on 29 November 2004, detailing the “besotted” 20-year-old’s “love-nest” in Argentina with a “pretty blonde”.
From then on, his relationship with Chelsy Davy filled pages of newsprint across the global tabloid media. The Duke says part of the reason they ultimately split was that she was being hounded by the press and photographers.
Prince Harry’s team says that on many occasions paparazzi photographers could only have found out where he and Ms Davy were with the help of illegal intrusion – they say there is circumstantial evidence that both their mobile phones were targeted by journalists listening to their voice messages.
On one occasion, says the Duke, the newspaper’s journalists booked into the same remote Mozambique hotel as him and Ms Davy, despite the trip being a total secret.
Other articles report the pair phoning each other during rocky periods in their relationship.
One April 2009 article in The People – “CHELSY’S NEW FELLA” – reported Prince Harry had been “bombarding the stunning blonde with calls in a bid to win her back”.
Anthony Harwood, the journalist who wrote the original Mirror story about the Argentinian hideaway, has already told the trial he got that story legitimately with the help of a local freelancer who had spoken to eyewitnesses.
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