LONDON (AP) – Britain’s Daily Mirror publisher has apologized for one incident of surveillance of Prince Harry, but refuted his other allegations on Wednesday as a lawsuit over one of Harry’s phone hacking lawsuits began with the prince’s lawyer accusing the paper of illegally collecting information. on an “industrial scale”.
However, admitting that the publisher hired a private eye for a 2004 article titled “Sex on the Beach with Harry” can only give the Duke of Sussex a sense of satisfaction. Since the story in question was not one of nearly 150 that Harry claimed to have originated from the scam, disclosure may have little bearing on the verdict.
The seven-week trial, which began in London, is the biggest test for Harry in his legal battle against the British media. He and three others, including two soap opera actors, sued Mirror Group Newspapers for alleged misuse of private information between 1991 and 2011.
Prince was not in court as his lawyer, David Sherborne, began his opening remarks by saying that illegal activities were “widespread and habitual” for reporters and editors of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.
“It was a stream of illegal activities,” Sherborne said. “But to make matters worse, this stream was approved by senior management, managing editors and board members.”
Invoices and phone records – some so old that they came from obsolete Palm Pilots – showed how the news, entertainment, sports and photography departments relied on investigators’ unscrupulous tactics.
Sherborne said former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan knew about the break-in and was even involved in it. Morgan has publicly denied any involvement in the phone hacking.
The accusations date back to a scandal that erupted over journalists and private investigators who intercepted voice messages to obtain information about members of the royal family, politicians, athletes, celebrities and even crime victims. It has evolved from being a simple default password cracker in the early days of voicemail to using deception to obtain medical records, tap phones, and bug houses.
Mirror Group Newspapers denied that it hacked phones to intercept Harry and three others’ voicemail messages, and said they filed their claims well over the six-year time limit.
But in court documents outlining its defense, the publisher acknowledged “some evidence of third party directives to engage in other forms of UIG (Unlawful Information Gathering).” It stated that this activity “requires compensation”, but did not specify what form this might take.
“MGN unconditionally apologizes for all such UIG incidents and assures Plaintiffs that such behavior will never happen again,” the court documents say.
The company said its apology was not a tactical move to mitigate damage, but was made “because this behavior should never have happened.”
The case, the first of three phone hacking lawsuits the Duke has taken to court, threatens to do what he says his family has long feared: bring a member of the royal family as a witness to discuss embarrassing revelations.
Harry is expected to testify in person in June., his lawyer said. It won’t be the first time he has appeared in the High Court since his surprise appearance last month. to watch most of a four-day hearing on one of his other trials.
The Prince waged a war of words against British newspapers in lawsuits and in his best-selling memoirs. A “spare” who has vowed to make it his life’s mission to reform the media, which he blames for the death of his mother, Princess Diana. She died in a car accident in Paris in 1997 while trying to hide from the paparazzi.
His lawsuits could further strain a family relationship that has been strained since Harry and his wife Meghan left royal life in 2020 and moved to California following complaints of racist treatment from the British press.
In a stunning revelation of a related case last month that opened an embarrassing chapter in his father’s life, Harry blamed him for the delay. in suing, in particular, his family.
He claimed he was barred from taking legal action against The Sun and other newspapers owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch because of a “secret agreement” allegedly approved by Queen Elizabeth II that involved reaching a private settlement and receiving an apology.
He said the deal was to save the royal family from having to answer questions about “private and highly sensitive” information in court, Harry said in testimony against News Group Newspapers.
“The institution was very nervous about this and wanted to avoid the reputational damage it suffered in 1993 at all costs,” he said, referring to a transcript of a leaked recording of an intimate conversation published in the Sunday Mirror. his father, then the Prince of Wales, had a mistress, now Queen Camilla, in whom he compared himself to a tampon.
Harry said his brother, Prince William, quietly settled his own hacking claims with the News Group for a “massive amount of money” in 2020. He also claimed that his father ordered the palace staff to order him to drop the lawsuit because it was bad. for family.
Murdoch’s company denied there was a “secret agreement” and did not comment on the proposed settlement. The palace did not respond to requests for comment.
Harry claimed that Mirror Group reporters used illegal methods to collect material from his family and friends for 147 stories, but the trial will only focus on 33 of them.
The publisher has said the allegations are exaggerated and denies that its reporters relied on illegally collected information for almost all of these articles, although in some cases it simply “did not acknowledge” the allegations.
He apologized for a February 2004 article in the Sunday People that described how the “Royal Romeo Prince Harry” dated two “stunning” models at London’s Chinawhite nightclub “during his drunken night”.
The publisher said an investigator was hired to take part in the illegal activity, but the £75 ($95) fee suggests little work has been done.
“MGN unconditionally apologizes and acknowledges that the Duke of Sussex is entitled to appropriate compensation for this,” lawyer Andrew Green wrote.
In 2015, The Mirror publishers printed a front-page apology for the phone hack and tripled the victims’ compensation fund to £12 million ($15 million).
The Mirror Group said more than 600 of the approximately 830 claims have been settled. Of the remaining 104 active cases, 86 were filed too late for trial, court documents say.
Harry’s co-plaintiffs in court are Nikki Sanderson and Michael Turner, best known for their roles in Coronation Street, and Fiona Whiteman, the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse.
The lawsuits were combined as a test case that could determine the outcome of hacking claims also brought against the Mirror Group by former Girls Aloud member Cheryl, the estate of the late singer George Michael and former footballer Ian Wright.