The publisher of a British tabloid has apologised to Prince Harry for unlawfully seeking information about him at the start of a lawsuit the royal is bringing over alleged phone-hacking in which he is due to give evidence himself.
Harry, 38, and some 100 celebrities including actors, sports stars, singers and TV personalities, are suing publisher Mirror Group Newspapers, accusing its titles of habitually accessing private information by widespread phone-hacking, deception and other illicit means between 1991 and 2011.
The claimants say the unlawful behaviour at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People had occurred with the full knowledge of senior editors and top executives who they say knew about it, approved it and actively covered it up.
The titles are owned by Reach (RCH.L).
MGN is contesting the allegations, arguing some claims have been brought too late, and rejecting most others such as saying there was no evidence Harry was a victim of hacking. It denies any senior figures had knowledge of unlawful acts.
However, in documents to the High Court in London, MGN did admit on one occasion a private investigator had been engaged to unlawfully gather evidence about him at a London nightclub in 2004, saying it “unreservedly apologises and accepts that (Harry) is entitled to appropriate compensation”.
Harry, who was not present for the start of the hearing, has been selected as one of four test cases for the seven-week trial and is due to give evidence himself in person in early June, the first British royal to do so since the 19th century, according to local media.
“Prince or not, the blatantly unlawful and illegal methods that were used by the defendant to get every piece of information about his life away from royal duties was quite frankly appalling,” David Sherborne, the lawyer representing Harry and the other claimants, told the court on Wednesday.
“No one should have been subjected to that.”
He said the unlawful actions had taken place on an “industrial scale”, saying MGN had spent millions on private investigators.
The trial begins just days after his father’s coronation on Saturday where Harry appeared only briefly for the ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey and played no formal role. He is believed to have returned immediately to California where his son Prince Archie was celebrating his fourth birthday.
The Mirror case is just one of four that Harry is currently pursuing against newspapers, saying it was his duty to expose “criminality” committed by the tabloids on behalf of those without the same resources as he has.
In March, he attended court in person to hear lawyers for Associated, which publishes the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, seek to throw out a case brought by him and other high-profile figures including singer Elton John.
He is also pursuing a phone-hacking case against Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN) and is also suing Associated for libel, with a decision on whether he can win that case without a trial also expected presently. All the publishers have promised to rigorously fight the claims.
Since stepping down from their royal roles in 2020, Harry and his wife Meghan have lashed out at both the press and the palace, including those working for his brother Prince William and his stepmother, Queen Camilla, saying they had colluded in media “lies”.
In its court submissions, MGN said many of the 147 stories which Harry claims must have come by unlawful means had in fact been briefed by aides working for the royals, including one of his father’s former press secretaries.