Lawyer says ‘nothing was off limits’ to reporters seeking information on young Prince Harry

By BRIAN MELLEY and JILL LAWLESS (Associated Press)

LONDON (AP) — A broken thumb, a back injury, doing drugs and dating girls.

No event in the life of a young Prince Harry was too mundane or private for journalists at Mirror Group Newspapers to withstand, and the demand for such scoops led to the use of illegal means to dig up the mess, his lawyer said in his opening statement on Monday . of his phone hacking process.

“Nothing was sacrosanct or off limits and there was no protection against these illegal methods of intelligence gathering,” said attorney David Sherborne.

But a defense lawyer said it would have been foolish to spy on someone like Harry with such tight security and rejected allegations that Mirror Group reporters had ever listened to his phone voicemails.

“There is simply no evidence to support a finding that the Duke of Sussex has been hacked, let alone on a regular basis,” said lawyer Anthony Green. “Zilch, zero, nil, nada, niente, nothing.”

Harry’s much-anticipated showdown with the Daily Mirror editor in his battles with the British press got off to an anticlimactic start when the star failed to appear – much to the chagrin of the judge and defense lawyer.

Harry was not available to testify that afternoon because he had taken a flight Sunday from Los Angeles after his 2-year-old daughter Lilibet’s birthday, Sherborne said.

“I’m a little surprised,” said Judge Timothy Fancourt, noting that he had instructed Harry to be prepared to testify.

Green said he was “deeply troubled” by Harry’s absence.

The case against the Mirror Group is the first of the prince’s many lawsuits against the media to go to trial, and one of three tabloid publishers who illegally baited him in their eye-watering competition to host the royal family.

When he takes the witness stand, Harry, 38, will be the first member of the British royal family to give evidence in court in more than a century. He is expected to describe his anguish and anger at being hounded by the media throughout his life and the impact it has on those around him.

Harry’s anger at the UK press – and sometimes at his own royal relatives for what he sees as their collusion with the media – runs through his memoir, Spare, and interviews with Oprah Winfrey and others .

He blamed the paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and said harassment and intrusion from the UK media, including allegedly racist articles, had led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee to the US in 2020 and leave the royal. life behind.

While Harry’s memoir and other recent media ventures have been an effort to reclaim the narrative of his life, which has been largely shaped by the media, he will have no such control when he faces cross-examination in a courtroom full of reporters hanging on every word.

Green said he plans to question the duke for a day and a half.

Stories about Harry were big sellers for newspapers, and some 2,500 articles covered all aspects of his life during the time period of the case – 1996 to 2011 – from injuries at school to experiments with marijuana and cocaine to ups and downs with girlfriends . , Sherborne said.

Harry said in court documents that he suffered “huge bouts of depression and paranoia” over concerns that friends and associates were betraying him by leaking information to newspapers. Relationships crumbled as the women in his life – and even their family members – were “drawn into chaos”.

He says he later realized the source wasn’t disloyal friends, but the aggressive journalists and private investigators he hired to eavesdrop on his voicemails and follow him to locations as far-flung as Argentina and a island off Mozambique.

Sherborne suggested that a 2003 article about a row with older brother Prince William, the heir to the throne, about confronting their mother’s former butler about spilling secrets planted the seeds of discord between the two.

“Siblings can disagree sometimes,” Sherborne said. “But once it’s made public like that and their inner feelings exposed the way they are, trust starts to erode.”

The Mirror Group said it used documents, public statements and sources to legally report on the prince – with one exception.

The editor admitted and apologized for hiring a private officer to clean up the dirt on one of Harry’s nights out at a bar, but the resulting 2004 article titled “Sex on the beach with Harry” is not among the 33 of the process.

Sherborne, however, said that the mirror Group carried out phone hacking and illegal information gathering on such a widespread scale that it was not plausible that it had been used just once against Harry.

In the absence of hard evidence, Sherborne said the judge must make skullduggery inferences based on the type of information reported, the vagueness of the source and whether the author of an article was known to have relied on illegal means in the past.

But Green said there was little or no evidence to support Harry’s case.

Hacking that involved guessing or using default security codes to listen to celebrities’ mobile phone voicemails was widespread in British tabloids at the turn of the century. It became an existential crisis for the industry after the revelation in 2011 that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a murdered 13-year-old girl.

Owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the paper and several of its executives faced criminal charges.

Mirror Group paid more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) to settle hundreds of claims of illegal data collection and apologized to victims of phone attacks in 2015.

Judges decide whether Harry’s other two phone hacking cases will go to trial.

Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and Associated Newspapers Ltd., which owns the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, argued the cases should be thrown out because Harry failed to file the lawsuits within a six-year deadline.

Harry’s lawyer argued that he should be granted an exception to the deadline because the publishers lied and cheated to cover up illegal actions.

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