In what will be a spectacle not seen for over a century, Prince Harry takes the stand in London’s high court Tuesday, as part of a messy and yearslong battle with British tabloids over a major phone hacking scandal.
The rare courtroom appearance will see the Duke of Sussex, 38, deliver evidence against the Mirror newspaper group—owners of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, and the Sunday People. Harry alleges that these titles hacked his personal phone a number of times from 1996 to 2011, in pursuit of unflattering and invasive stories about him.
By testifying, Harry opens himself up to potentially aggressive cross-examination that could reveal personal details that Buckingham Palace might prefer were not publicly aired. The last time a senior British royal took the stand was in 1891, when the future King Edward VII was involved in an illegal gambling scandal.
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“Clearly the royal family’s avoidance of court appearances is linked to the concern that anything can, in theory, be raised in a court,” Richard Fitzwilliams, a royal commentator, tells TIME. “There is obviously concern that issues dealing with the royal family’s relationship with the press will be raised. Harry has claimed there is collusion between them.”
The royal family has typically opted to settle legal claims behind closed doors. In 2020, Prince William settled his own phone hacking case against News Group—publishers of the Times, the Sunday Times, and the Sun—and accepted an undisclosed payout. But Harry has refused to settle this time around amid growing frustration with the British press.
As Harry prepares to testify, here’s everything we know about the case.
What are Harry’s allegations?
Addressing editors of four British tabloid newspapers in April 2020—shortly after stepping back as working royals—Harry and Meghan wrote a letter in which they outlined the “human cost” of their reporting methods. The couple wrote that the tabloids pull lives apart “for no good reason, other than the fact that salacious gossip boosts advertising revenue.”
This case is being seen by many as an extension of these frustrations. Harry’s case brings forth 33 stories that he believes were facilitated by hacking his phone, as well as that of William and his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy throughout the early 2000s. The lawsuit alleges that senior executives at the company were aware of these activities.
Harry’s lawyer said these instances were “widespread and habitual” and led to the “couple losing trust in numerous friends and experiencing undue pressure on their relationship.” The case also outlines a number of suspicious calls to Davy days before British tabloids reported in intimate detail the couple’s plans to break up because she could not handle press intrusion.
The 33 stories noted in the trial go back as early as Harry’s 12th birthday, in 1996, when it was reported that he felt “badly” about his parents divorce. Harry said that growing up with these insights into his life being published led to feelings or paranoia about who he could trust, as well as “huge bouts of depression and paranoia.”
The case further alleges that Piers Morgan, a vocal critic of Harry and Meghan Markle, was aware of unlawful techniques being used by reporters during his time as editor of the Mirror from 1995 to 2004.
What is the Mirror Group arguing?
Mirror Group Newspapers denies hacking Harry’s phone, asserting that any stories it published were informed by legitimate reporting methods. The publisher has, however, apologized for hiring a private investigator to look into a night out that the royal spent in a bar, which resulted in a 2004 article headlined “Sex on the beach with Harry.” This story is, however, not one of the 33 articles that the case rests upon.
MGN also argues that the case should be thrown out because claims were not brought in the six-year window from when the alleged wrongdoings happened or when the plaintiff knew about it.
The publisher has already paid over $125 million in settlements over similar cases, and printed an apology to a victim of phone hacking in 2015. In reference to allegations that MGN intercepted voicemails between him and Davy, the publisher said the industry was already rocked by the aftermath of the phone hacking scandals, and that it is highly unlikely they would resort to these techniques.
The scandal first emerged in 2006 and saw Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the now defunct publication News of the World, as well as hacker Glenn Mulcaire, convicted of phone hacking the following year. Two years later, it emerged that the practice was more widespread than initially thought. The scandal blew up in 2011 when Met police found as many as 4,000 people were hacked by the publication.
What other legal disputes is Harry involved in?
At present, Harry is awaiting news on whether two other cases of illegal information gathering that he has brought will proceed to trial. He is suing News Group Newspapers, the parent company of The Sun, over claims the publication illegally hacked his voicemails during the 2000s.
The Duke is also involved in an ongoing libel case against Associated Newspapers Limited regarding its reporting of a lawsuit he lodged against the British Home Office concerning security arrangements for his family when they are in the U.K.
Harry’s libel case is in reference to the Daily Mail headline claiming that he tried to conceal legal efforts to get the British government to provide police protection. The headline in question read: “How Prince Harry tried to keep his legal fight with the government over police bodyguards a secret… then — just minutes after the story broke — his PR machine tried to put a positive spin on the dispute.”
Two judges are set to decide later this year if either of these lawsuits should progress to trial.
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