All The Details About Prince Harry's Phone Hacking Trial

Prince Harry has been taking unprecedented action against major United Kingdom publications. In 2019, he filed a civil claim against the publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), which operates the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, and Sunday People. In June 2023, the duke had the chance to tell his side when he gave historic testimony. Prince Harry is part of a group that has accused MGN of unlawful information gathering, deceiving to gain information, and using private investigators to obtain private details unlawfully. Per The Guardian, in the duke's official witness statement, he claimed the outlets "masquerade as journalists" only to abuse their power.

At the heart of the case lies the accusation of phone hacking, in which a person obtains access to a user's phone data through unlawful means. Prince Harry detailed signs of the alleged phone hacking in his witness statement, including new voicemails that would appear on his phone as old messages, signaling to the duke that someone else listened to his private voicemails before he did.

Prince Harry's barrister, David Sherborne, is representing three other claimants who have additionally accused the publisher of unlawful harassment. All four claimants contend that executive leadership within MGN must have known about illegal tactics and approved of the relentless pursuit of private details for competitive stories. Let's take a closer look at the details of the Duke of Sussex's phone hacking trial.

The duke's case was chosen as a representative from a larger group of claimants

Prince Harry's case is one of four smaller "test cases" being brought against MGN. Along with the Duke of Sussex, barrister David Sherborne represents the ex-wife of TV comedian Paul Whitehouse, as well as actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson during the test phase of the larger group claim. More than 100 individuals— including other public figures — are suing the publisher for obtaining information through unlawful practices. 

As reported by HuffPost, actor Michael Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, was accused of being a mole by his "Coronation" castmates because of alleged phone hacking; he claims the publisher's alleged actions took a serious toll on his personal and professional life. His castmate Nikki Sanderson also alleged that she experienced abusive behavior in public from the publisher's reporters. Turner and Sanderson also submitted evidence to support claims of unlawfully intercepted voicemails that were leaked to the press.

As reported by BBC News, at the start of the trial in May, Sherborne described MGN's alleged unlawful information gathering as a recurring issue, claiming it lasted between 1991 and 2011. He also called the publisher's activity a "flood of illegality." MGN issued an official apology to Prince Harry in May for a singular event in 2004 in which the publisher admitted to using a private investigator to obtain details for a story, although it was not one of the stories in question during this trial.  

The court proceedings

The test civil cases began on May 10, presided by Mr Justice Fancourt at Court 15 in the Rolls Building at the High Court of Justice in London. Prince Harry's cross-examination began on June 6 and he also provided a 49-page witness statement, giving great detail to the pain and hardship the press has caused him in every aspect of his life since childhood. "I now realize that my acute paranoia of being constantly under surveillance was not misplaced after all," the prince said in his testimony, per ABC News.

The duke and his legal team included 147 articles published between 1996 and 2010 that he believes are tied to hacked information or information that was otherwise obtained illegally. Only 33 articles were permitted into the hearing and several specific articles were discussed in the duke's cross-examination.

The claimants want the judge to consider MGN's previous admissions of hacking, look at any gaps in the defense, and then consider the claimants' testimony, according to BBC News. It's a civil case so the judge only has to rule for or against the claimants on the balance of probabilities, meaning the balance only needs to be tipped in favor of one party. The first four cases may determine the overall compensation for the larger group of claimants if they win.

The prince testified that he wants the press to be held accountable

Prince Harry is concerned that the press is not being held accountable. "If they're supposedly policing society, who on earth is policing them, when even the government is scared of alienating them because position is power. It is incredibly worrying for the entire U.K.," Harry said, as reported by ABC News. 

He referred to the actions of the British press as "criminal" with regards to how they relentlessly pursued stories about his life, despite knowing the harm it was causing and he called for other journalists to be whistleblowers. "In my view, in order to save journalism as a profession, journalists need to expose those people in the media that have stolen or hijacked the privileges and powers of the press, and have used illegal or unlawful means for their own gain and agendas," he said, as reported by The Guardian. While Harry, of course, has his own personal issues with the press, he filed the claim because he wants to shed light on said exploitative and troubling methods of obtaining information. As he put it, he wants to see journalists "account for their actions."

Prince Harry accused the press of knowingly printing damaging lies

Prince Harry's witness statement described painful details involving his mother and questions about his father's paternity. From the '90s on, some publications relentlessly pursued the idea that the duke's real father might have been James Hewitt, Princess Diana's riding instructor, rather than King Charles III. Hewitt has confirmed that he had an affair with the princess, but has denied being the duke's father. 

Harry stated in his witness testimony that many of those journalists knew that Diana didn't meet Hewitt until two years after her second son was born, but they continued to print countless stories questioning the paternity of the prince and alleged plots about stealing DNA. "They were hurtful, mean, and cruel. I was always left questioning the motives behind the stories. Were the newspapers keen to put doubt into the minds of the public so I might be ousted from the royal family?" Harry stated, per The Guardian.. 

Unfortunately, Harry spent much of his life in the dark about the timeline of his mother's relationship with Hewitt. "Numerous newspapers had reported a rumour that my biological father was James Hewitt, a man my mother had a relationship with after I was born. At the time of this article and others similar to it, I wasn't actually aware that my mother hadn't met Major Hewitt until after I was born," Harry stated. He continued, "The timeline is something I only learnt of in around 2014, although I now understand this was common knowledge amongst the Defendants' journalists."

The Harry and William fight that was made public

In written testimony and the cross-examination, Prince Harry had to describe a private altercation between him and his brother regarding their mother's former bodyguard Paul Burrell. Prince William and Harry had been arguing over Burrell's behavior following Princess Diana's death and their refusal to allow a meeting with him in 2003. "We firmly believed that she would have expected some privacy in death, especially from someone she had trusted, and we were so upset at the way he was behaving – I didn't want to hear his reasons for it," Harry wrote, per The Guardian. "Therefore, our disagreement over to how to handle the situation going forward was not something I wanted splashed across the defendant's newspapers, and I have no idea how the defendant's journalists obtained the information within the article."

Some of the reported details pulled from the conversation were so specific — such as Harry calling Burrell a "two-faced s**t" — that Harry insisted they could not have been known unless a voicemail between him and William was illegally obtained. Although the Duke of Sussex has a different perspective on the leaked information now, at the time, he didn't know who he could trust. When the article in question was brought into the cross-examination, Harry remarked, "This sort of article seeds distrust between brothers."

Prince Harry's security was endangered by the press

Prince Harry also detailed his concerns with security breaches when he and ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy took personal trips together, only for their travel plans to be printed by the press. The Duke of Sussex said in the cross-examination that he believed the flight details must have been obtained illegally. The prince quickly countered any attempt to explain the leaks as palace sources. "Details about how I was flying would not have been released by the palace due to security reasons," he testified, as reported by The Guardian.

The media's constant attention on Prince Harry and Davy put too big a strain on their relationship. When the trial opened, David Sherborne detailed Harry's life to the court through the lens of constant harassment. "Every time he was in a relationship, or even a rumoured relationship, that whole person's family, and often their friends, would be 'dragged into the chaos' and find themselves the subject of unlawful activity on the part of MGN," said Sherborne, per Time. He continued, "There was nowhere that was 'off limits' for MGN's newspapers, whose journalists would even manage to book into a hotel in Bazaruto, a small island off the coast of Mozambique, when the Duke of Sussex and Ms. Davy tried to escape there and enjoy some peace and quiet."

The Prince says he didn't know who to trust

In his witness statement, Prince Harry opened up about personal relationships and the press. He noted that he and ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy never felt at ease when they were an item, as they were constantly afraid that someone they knew was leaking information to the press. The details released about the two were so specific and small that the duke couldn't imagine how the information was getting out. "References to spending 'hour' on the phone with Chelsy, I don't know how anyone would know that, our relationship was private," Harry stated.  "Our trust in our friends reduced rapidly in a very short space of time." 

Harry also began second-guessing his own doctors after information about his personal medical history was made public. According to the prince, the palace would not have released any information about an injury without Harry's consent. Harry contends that the palace officials only answered questions about his injury and pointed out that the knowledge of the injury was obtained by the press through an unlawful method.

The Mirror's defense

MGN is represented by barrister Andrew Green, who, as noted by BBC News, is known to be a "beast in court." The defendant's primary defense is that the hacking claims cannot be proven. "There is simply no evidence capable of supporting the finding that the Duke of Sussex was hacked, let alone on a habitual basis," said Green, according to the AP. The prince countered that defense and accused the Mirror of using information from legitimate sources as inspiration to obtain further information on a story through illegal means. "Just because there was a story which came out previously doesn't mean there weren't attempts to take the story further," the royal said.

During cross-examination, Green made rattling statements to the court about how easily information about the duke can be obtained. "Private information about you was sometimes provided to the press with the consent of the press ... without your consent ... or even knowledge," said Green, per The Guardian. The barrister also attempted to bring the general public into the argument when he pointed out that the Mirror is known to encourage the public to call in celebrity sightings. Green maintained that the prince could have been spotted while walking to a destination, but Prince Harry was quick to dismiss this defense theory. "I don't walk on streets," the prince quipped.  

The Mirror has already shelled out for settlements

At the start of the trial, the publishing group issued an official apology to Prince Harry for one instance in 2004 in which they admitted they used a private investigator to report on Prince Harry's private activity at the Chinawhite Nightclub. Per BBC News, MGN apologized for that instance in 2004, and agreed that the legal challenge brought by the prince warranted compensation. This case was not one of the incidents Harry and his legal team submitted as evidence.

As noted by Reuters, MGN admitted to phone hacking as a means of obtaining information back in 2014, and they have since settled more than 600 claims and paid $120 million in damages to other high-profile individuals. Per BBC News, David Sherborne painted a description of a deeply entrenched lack of journalistic ethics within the publishing group, stating that the unlawful methods "an invaluable part of the armoury." The prince has stated that he believes the phone hacking of his personal information involves about 30 other individuals, but MGN has always maintained that they did not hack into Prince Harry's personal information through his phone.

Prince Harry is the first senior royal to appear in court in over 130 years

Prince Harry's court appearance for cross-examination marks the first time a senior royal has appeared in court to give testimony since 1891. Edward VII, then a prince, was a witness in a slander case. Per The Guardian, a report at the time read, "Though it only lasted 20 minutes, the examination of the prince evidently wearied him exceedingly, and made him extremely nervous."

In March 2023, Harry did head to court for a different case against another media company, but he only observed a trial and did not provide testimony. Per BBC News, the duke is a claimant in the case against Associated Newspapers alongside fellow household names like Sir Elton John, David Furnish, and Elizabeth Hurley. They came forward with a number of allegations regarding breaches of privacy. 

Harry left his position in the royal family in 2020, partly to escape the British press, and now he considers it one of his missions to reform the media. The prince is currently involved in five other lawsuits. Per ABC News, at the end of his witness statement, the prince said some reporters have "blood on their typing fingers." Clearly, he's not one to sit idly by.