London: Prince Harry said the press had blood on its hands as he gave evidence against a tabloid publisher whose titles he accuses of phone-hacking and other unlawful activities, becoming the first senior royal in a witness box in more than a century.
Harry, the fifth-in-line to the throne, briefly smiled as he passed the phalanx of waiting photographers and camera crews when he arrived at the modern Rolls Building in central London, ahead of the very rare court appearance by a royal.
He and more than 100 others are suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, over allegations of widespread wrongdoing between 1991 and 2011.
The younger son of King Charles III entered the witness box to face hours of cross-examination from Andrew Green, MGN’s lawyer, over 33 newspaper articles Harry said were based on information which had been unlawfully gathered.
Green began by personally apologising to Harry on his client’s behalf over one instance in which it admitted unlawful information gathering.
“It should never have happened and it will not happen again,” he said, adding if the court agreed MGN had committed wrongdoing on other occasions “you will be entitled to, and you will receive a more extensive apology”.
In questioning, Harry was asked about a passage in his written witness statement in which he referred to “appalling” behaviour by the British press. “How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?” he wrote.
How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?
– Prince Harry
Asked by Green if he was suggesting MGN journalists who wrote the articles at the centre of his lawsuit had blood on their hands, Harry replied: “Some of the editors and journalists that are responsible for causing a lot of pain, upset and in some cases – perhaps inadvertently – death.” The prince is the first senior British royal to give evidence for 130 years. He was speaking from the same witness box in Court 15 where singer Ed Sheeran and French actress Eva Green have both recently appeared in separate and unrelated cases.
The MGN trial began last month, with lawyers for Harry and the other claimants seeking to prove that unlawful information gathering was carried out with the knowledge and approval of senior editors and executives.
Harry is one of four test cases, and his specific allegations form the focus of the first three days of this week.
However, he did not appear on Monday, having only left the United States, where he now lives with his American wife Meghan, the previous evening as it was his daughter Lilibet’s birthday on Sunday. The judge, Timothy Fancourt, said he was surprised at his absence.
Millions of stories
Looking serious and speaking firmly but quietly, Harry said thousands if not millions of stories had been written about him, as Green pressed him on whether he had specifically read the MGN articles in question.
Harry agreed that he and his lawyers had chosen the most intrusive articles and those which had caused the most distress for his complaint.
Asked if he remembered reading the first story he had complained about, an article about his mother visiting him for his 12th birthday, Harry said: “I was a child, I was at school, these articles were incredibly invasive. Every time one of these articles were written it had an effect.”
On Monday, Harry’s lawyer David Sherborne said his late mother Princess Diana, had also been a victim of hacking, and the prince referred to this in his witness statement, laying the blame at the Daily Mirror’s former editor Piers Morgan.
He said the thought of Piers Morgan and his “band of journalists earwigging” into my mother’s messages “makes me feel physically sick and even more determined to hold those responsible, including Mr Morgan, accountable for their vile and entirely unjustified behaviour”.
Morgan, now a high-profile broadcaster who works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has always denied any involvement in, or knowledge of phone-hacking or other illegal activity.
MGN, now owned by Reach, has previously admitted its titles were involved in phone-hacking, settling more than 600 claims, but Green has said there was no evidence that Harry had ever been a victim.
The publisher also argues that some of the personal information involved had come from senior royal aides, including from one of his father’s former top officials.