LONDON – Britain’s Prince Harry, who has been hounded by paparazzi all his life, won a legal victory Friday against a British newspaper group he accused of hacking into his voice mail in the early 2000s to get a scoop.
This is vindication for Harry, who has partly blamed what he calls Britain’s toxic tabloid culture for rifts with his family, his decision to step back from his role as a senior royal, and his 2020 move to California with his American wife, Meghan Markle, and their children. .
The High Court in London ruled that phone-hacking was “widespread and routine” in the 1990s and early 2000s at tabloids run by the Mirror Group, and that newspaper executives not only knew about it, but tried to cover it up. The judge said Harry’s cell phone was specifically targeted between 2003 and 2009.
When he testified in the case last June, Harry became the first member of the UK royal family in more than a century to stand in a courtroom. More than 100 celebrities joined him as plaintiffs in the civil case. It’s one of several ongoing lawsuits over phone hacking.
Harry filed a lawsuit against the book’s publisher Daily Mirror Its sister publication published more than 33 articles that he said were based on information obtained unethically and illegally by hacking his voicemail. The judge ruled in Harry’s favor in 15 of those 33 cases, awarding him approximately $180,000 in damages.
The articles included personal stories about Harry’s grief over the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in 1997, and about the romantic relationships he had as a teenager. One was related to a sports injury he had suffered, which no one outside of his immediate family and friends knew about. Harry said that the hacking operation created an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion among those close to him about who was leaking information to the media.
Harry now lives in California and did not appear in public at Friday’s proceedings. In a statement read by his lawyer outside the courtroom, Harry called this “revenge journalism” and praised the ruling.
Lawyer David Sherborne quoted the prince as saying: “This case is not just about piracy.” “This is about a systematic practice of illegal and appalling behaviour, followed by a cover-up and destruction of evidence – a horrific scale that can only be revealed through these actions.”
Mirror Group’s parent company, called Reach, issued an apology. Noting that the events in question occurred many years ago, he said it was time to “move on.”
“Where historical wrongdoing has occurred, we have unreservedly apologized, taken full responsibility and made appropriate compensation,” Reach CEO Jim Mullen said in a statement.
Mullen said he hopes Friday’s ruling will limit future compensation claims. The company has allocated approximately $60 million to cover legal cases related to phone hacking.
Possible tabloid account
But media analysts say that rather than closing a sordid chapter in the UK’s media history, Friday’s ruling could be the beginning of a new reckoning for Britain’s tabloids and their executives.
“It’s a very bad day for the British media, which has been trying to sweep this under the rug,” says media analyst Eleanor Mills, former editor-in-chief of London Magazine. The Sunday Times Newspaper. “Other newspaper groups will probably be very concerned.”
In his ruling on Friday, Judge Timothy Fancourt mentioned a specific television and newspaper personality by name: Piers Morgan.
Morgan, who was born in Britain, was one of Harry’s harshest critics, often mocking the prince and his wife on television. He called on them to lose their titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Morgan now works at News Corp’s Talk TV, but was an editor for News Corp Daily Mirror From 1995 to 2004, during some years when the tabloid was discovered to be involved in phone hacking. Fancourt said in his ruling that Morgan was among the newspaper executives who learned of the practice.
Morgan did not testify in this case and denied any wrongdoing.
NPR producer Fatima Al-Qassab contributed to this story from London.