Prince Harry could be weeks away from discovering whether he has won or lost one high stakes tabloid lawsuit—while a second is also approaching a pivotal moment.
The Duke of Sussex vowed in January to make it his life’s work to transform the landscape of the British media, a cause he is pursuing in part through the British courts.
And he made history in June when he testified as a key witness in his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers, which alleges phone hacking and other unlawful activity.
The trial finished at the end of June and the judge indicated he would likely deliver a verdict in the fall.
The High Court in London finished sitting at the end of July and does not resume until October 2, but once sessions begin again Harry’s verdict could be days away. The High Court, when contacted by Regalrumination.com, said no date has been listed yet.
Beyond the Mirror case, Harry is also suing the publisher of the Daily Mail and its sister titles for historic phone hacking, wire tapping and other offenses, which the company denies.
In that case too, Harry is waiting for a decision on an application by the publisher to have the case thrown out for being filed too long after the news stories complained of.
Mark Stephens, an attorney for London-based law firm Howard Kennedy, told Regalrumination.com judges tend to spend the summer working on their judgments “and then deliver them in the first couple of days” of the new session.
“There’ll be some things he wins, and some things he loses,” he said. “With the Mirror claim for example, I don’t think he’ll win on every article. Essentially if the Mirror loses on any single one, that’s them effectively found guilty of phone hacking. So he only has to win one and they have to win everything so I think Harry will win that.”
The Mirror Group Case
Harry told the High Court in London how media persecution destroyed his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy as journalists, he says, unlawfully blagged her flight details so they could ambush her at airports.
He accused the Mirror titles, including the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, of hacking phones to get personal details, including about his health while he was at boarding school Eton.
In a written statement to the court, Harry said journalists had blood on their hands, and while being questioned at the High Court in London said he was referring to “some of the editors and journalists who are responsible for a lot of pain, upset in some cases, perhaps inadvertently death. I think that’s more broadly towards the tabloid press itself.
“Finding out about the unlawful methods, about the information of the article, how it was obtained, certainly shocked me,” Harry said. “Every single article has caused me distress.”
And he dragged one of his biggest media critics, Piers Morgan, into the lawsuit by arguing the outspoken Talk TV host was complicit in phone hacking that took place under his watch when he was editor of the Daily Mirror.
Among them was an allegation relating to private conversations between Princess Diana and a celebrity friend, U.K. TV personality Michael Barrymore.
“Unfortunately,” Harry said in his written statement, “as a consequence of me bringing my Mirror Group claim, both myself and my wife have been subjected to a barrage of horrific personal attacks and intimidation from Piers Morgan, who was the Editor of the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, presumably in retaliation and in the hope that I will back down, before being able to hold him properly accountable for his unlawful activity towards both me and my mother during his editorship.”
The newspaper publisher admitted a single instance of unlawful news gathering, though it did not involve phone hacking.
The Mirror Group, in fact, says there is no evidence its journalists ever hacked Harry’s phone and in relation to one of his accusations noted that he did not actually own a cell phone at the time, in the mid-1990s.
The prince’s case is bolstered by the fact that the publisher has previously acknowledged phone hacking took place at its title and clearly they wrote extensively about the prince.
However, it will be up to the judge to determine whether Harry and his legal team have proven he was a victim of the illegal practice.
The ‘Daily Mail’ Case
Harry is also suing the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, for phone hacking, wire tapping and other unlawful information gathering techniques.
Associated Newspapers Ltd, which publishes the titles, firmly denied the allegations and also applied for them to be thrown saying the prince left it too late to bring the case, missing a six-year window for such claims to be brought.
Harry sought to counter this argument by stating the palace held back information from him about phone hacking, meaning he could not have realized he was a victim until more recently.
In a witness statement, Harry told the court: “The Institution made it clear that we did not need to know anything about phone hacking and it was made clear to me that the Royal Family did not sit in the witness box because that could open up a can of worms.
“The Institution was without a doubt withholding information from me for a long time.”
If the case does proceed, much attention will likely focus on a private investigator named Gavin Burrows, who was said by Harry’s team to have admitted conducting illegal practices on behalf of the Mail titles.
However, he has since signed a witness statement for the publisher denying that he was ever “instructed or commissioned” by the newspapers to “conduct unlawful information gathering on their behalf.”
The duke’s strategic aim in filing these lawsuits goes beyond the immediate question of whether British newspapers hacked his phone.
In January he told ITV journalist Tom Bradby: “One of the reasons why I am moving the mission of changing the media landscape within the U.K. from being personal to my life’s work, a large part of that is down to the ongoing legal battles.”
For Harry, defeat would mean more than just a waste of what is estimated to be millions in costs.
His motivation lies in a belief that journalists like Piers Morgan and newspapers like the Daily Mail were allowed to get away with criminal conduct and that he needs to hold them to account.
Unmistakably in the background lies his past complaints, including in his book, that no photographers were prosecuted for the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
The lawsuits are defined wounds of many kinds from many places and if he does not win, the risk is that he continues to struggle to put the past behind him.
On the other hand, if he is successful he can tell himself that he finally settled old scores and perhaps that will create the space for him to move on.
William Brown is Regalrumination.com‘s chief royal correspondent based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @TheCrownUp and read his stories on Regalrumination.com’s The Royals Facebook page.
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