LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry entered a London courtroom in a high-stakes bid to prove the publisher of the Daily Mirror tabloid had unlawfully snooped on his life.
He left the witness box Wednesday looking fatigued and with the outcome uncertain.
The Duke of Sussex said he was highly suspicious of how reporters obtained information about him for stories from 1996 to 2011 that had caused him anguish, but he had little to support his accusations. He said journalists used burner phones and destroyed records, relying on such evidence proven in other cases.
“I believe that phone hacking was at an industrial scale across at least three of the papers at the time,” he asserted in his second day of testimony in the High Court. “That is beyond any doubt.”
At the end of nearly eight hours of cross-examination over two days, defense lawyer Andrew Green asked if Harry was aware of any evidence that indicated he had his phone hacked over a period of 15 years.
“No,” Harry said. “That’s part of the reason why I’m here.”
Harry is on a mission to reform the British media, and the phone hacking allegations are central to his legal battles against publishers.
The case against Mirror Group Newspapers, which has paid more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims is the first of his three hacking lawsuits to go to trial. He says tabloid publishers invaded his privacy by eavesdropping on voicemails and hiring private investigators to report on the smallest details of his life, causing him great emotional turmoil.
Harry’s hostility at the U.K. media runs through his memoir, “Spare.” He blames paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and he said intrusions by journalists led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee to the U.S. in 2020 and leave royal life behind.
His lawyer said he wasn’t on a vendetta against the media, but is seeking accountability, though Harry’s 55-page witness statement suggested otherwise.
“How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?” he wrote.
His composure in court betrayed none of that acrimony.
He spoke softly and didn’t lose his patience as witnesses often do under cross-examination — even as he was repeatedly asked to explain how an article had caused him pain if he wasn’t certain he had read it at the time it was published.
“Most of the articles I don’t remember seeing,” he said. “Most of them were equally distressing then and more distressing today going through this process.”
The spectacle of the first senior member of the royal family to testify in court in more than 130 years drew dozens of reporters, photographers and curious onlookers lucky to get a seat.
Wearing a dark suit and white shirt both days, he smiled at times, joked and laughed at others.
He got laughs Tuesday from the roughly two dozen reporters when he dismissed a longtime royal family correspondent as someone he wouldn’t call a “specialist.”
As he juggled various large binders that contained the articles about him, he quipped, “I feel like I’m doing a workout.”
Someone in the gallery sneezed in the middle of testimony and he offered a “bless you,” without breaking stride.
Green, who has a reputation for his brutal cross-examinations, took a respectful but direct approach as he tried to dismantle Harry’s allegations.
Green asked Harry if he really thought that journalists would be foolish enough to risk getting caught phone hacking after a News of the World reporter and a private investigator went to prison for such activity in 2007.
“I believe the risk is worth the reward for them,” Harry answered.
Green, who has said Harry’s phone wasn’t hacked, asked the witness if he would be relieved or upset if the judge reached the same conclusion.
“To have a decision against me … given that Mirror Group have admitted hacking, yes, it would feel like an injustice,” Harry responded.
“So you want to have been phone hacked?” Green said.
“Nobody wants to be phone hacked,” Harry replied.
Justice Timothy Fancourt, who will deliver the verdict later in the year, asked how long Harry had noticed unusual activity on his phone that he only later attributed to hacking.
“From the moment I had a mobile phone. … It never stopped,” Harry said. “I remember a lot of missed calls that lasted one second, I remember a lot of people asking me, ‘Did you get my voicemail?’”
Harry’s skepticism of the press included suggestions that anonymous sources were fabricated and extended to people quoted by name.
More than once, he said that seeing something in print attributed to someone “doesn’t mean that it’s true” and said false information was added to stories “to put people like myself off the scent.”
When Harry couldn’t point to how information was unlawfully obtained about him, he told Green to ask the reporter of the story.
His own lawyer, David Sherborne, got that chance later as he grilled former Daily Mirror royal correspondent Jane Kerr, whose byline appears on several of the 33 stories cited in Harry’s lawsuit.
The lawyer expressed incredulity when she said she had never suspected that private investigators paid by the paper to find unlisted phone numbers and other details of individuals could have broken the law.
“I don’t recall ever instructing anyone to do anything unlawful or knowing they were doing anything unlawful,” Kerr said.
In a witness statement, Kerr said Mirror Group had acknowledged instructing one investigator, Jonathan Stafford, to unlawfully obtain private information, and that her name appeared in records relating to him.
“I had no reason to believe that the practices Stafford engaged in were unlawful nor did I instruct him to undertake such practices,” she said.
At the end of Harry’s testimony, his own lawyer had a chance to ask questions and concluded by inquiring how he was doing after a day-and-a-half in the witness box.
“You have had to go through these articles and answer questions knowing this is a very public courtroom and the world’s media are watching. How has that made you feel?” Sherborne said.
Harry appeared to choke up. He took a deep breath and puffed his cheeks as he exhaled.
“It’s a lot,” he said and offered a weary smile.