UK judge rules Prince Harry victim of phone hacking by Mirror Group

15 Dec 2023 09:15pm
(FILES) Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain's High Court, in central London on March 28, 2023. - (Photo by DANIEL LEAL / AFP)
(FILES) Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, Britain's High Court, in central London on March 28, 2023. - (Photo by DANIEL LEAL / AFP)

LONDON - A UK judge ruled Friday that Prince Harry was a victim of phone hacking by journalists working for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), and awarded him £140,600 ($179,600) in damages.

The high court judge ruled in favour of the Duke of Sussex in 15 of the 33 sample articles that he submitted as evidence in his lawsuit against MGN, which publishes The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

Justice Timothy Fancourt said he had concluded that the newspapers carried out "extensive" phone hacking of celebrities between 2006 and 2011, even when a public inquiry into the conduct of the British press was ongoing.

"I consider that his phone was only hacked to a modest extent, and that this was probably carefully controlled by certain people at each newspaper," Fancourt said.

Prince Harry said in a statement read outside court by his lawyer that the ruling was "vindicating and affirming".

In a statement a spokesperson for MGN said: "Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologise unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation."

Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, became the first British royal in over a century to take to the witness stand when he gave evidence in the trial.

The last time a royal had given evidence in court was in the 1890s, when the future king Edward VII took the stand in a slander trial.

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Harry, 39, accused the publisher of "industrial scale" phone hacking during emotional testimony in which he relived upsetting episodes of his life.

He argued he had been the victim of relentless and distressing media intrusion virtually his entire life.

The prince and several other claimants alleged the titles engaged in "illegal information gathering", including intercepting phone voice mails, to write dozens of stories about him.

- Diana's death -

The Duke of Sussex, as he is also known, has launched legal action against several tabloid media groups, alongside barrages of attacks aimed at his family and the monarchy.

"I've been told that slaying dragons will get you burned," he said in his statement.

"But in light of today's victory and the importance of doing what is needed for a free and honest press it's a worthwhile price to pay. The mission continues."

MGN had admitted to "some evidence" of unlawful information gathering, including for a story about Harry.

But it had denied voicemail interception and also argued that some claims were brought too late by Harry and the other claimants.

Harry has long had a turbulent relationship with the press and holds the media responsible for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a 1997 Paris car crash while being pursued by paparazzi.

Allegations that tabloid journalists hacked into celebrities' phones first emerged two decades ago and prompted the Leveson inquiry into press conduct.

It found that British newspapers had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people" and led to the closure of Britain's top-selling newspaper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World, in 2011.

Harry quit the royal family for a life in California with his American wife Meghan and now has a difficult relationship with his father and his brother, Prince William.- Peter Hutchinson / AFP