Prince Harry’s Phone Was Hacked by U.K. Tabloid, Judge Rules in Landmark Case

A London court on Friday ruled in favor of Prince Harry in a lawsuit that he had pursued against a British tabloid publisher, a major victory in the royal’s long-running battle with Britain’s news media and a personal vindication of his crusade over press intrusion into his life.

The judge found there was sufficient proof that Mirror Group Newspapers, which owns several publications, had engaged in unlawful information gathering, including phone hacking, in its coverage of Harry and the other plaintiffs.

Judge Timothy Fancourt determined that the information in 15 of 33 articles submitted by Harry’s lawyers as evidence of phone hacking had been unlawfully gathered by journalists, and he awarded the royal 140,600 pounds, or around $180,000, in damages. He said that it appeared Harry’s personal phone was targeted between 2004 and 2009.

The lawsuit, a civil matter, is one of a number of cases that Harry, the Duke of Sussex and younger son of King Charles III, and his wife, Meghan, have brought against Britain’s tabloid news media over privacy rights.

His battle against the British media has often stood in stark contrast to the royal family’s traditionally reserved approach, and the decision comes amid a deepening rift within the royal household over how to handle the press.

Prince Harry, whose memoir “Spare,” published this year, described his deep anger and outrage at the tabloids’ treatment of his late mother, Princess Diana, was the first senior member of Britain’s royal family to take the stand since the 19th century.

The ruling seemed to vindicate that decision.

In a statement read out by his lawyer after the ruling, Harry, 39, said: “I have been told that slaying dragons will get you burned, but in light of today’s victory and the importance of doing what is needed for a free and honest press, it is a worthwhile price to pay.”

The ruling could also have far-reaching implications for Britain’s tabloid newspapers, who will likely face broader calls for accountability.

Harry had alleged that journalists at The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People tabloids targeted him and those in his inner circle by gaining access to his voice mail messages, and using other unlawful methods for years, causing him “considerable distress.”

Most of the actions outlined in the case occurred from 1991 to 2011, at a time when Harry was third in line to the British throne, behind his father and elder brother, William.

During the case, Harry gave testimony for over seven hours in a London courtroom in June. His lawyer submitted 147 newspaper articles as evidence, dozens of which were forensically examined during the hearing.

In his testimony, Harry said that the negative stories about him and his family splashed across the papers’ front pages had led him to distrust even his closest friends. In written evidence, he declared that editors and journalists had “blood on their hands” because of the methods they had used and the lengths to which they had gone to report on him and his family. Harry’s mother, Diana, died in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued by photographers in Paris.

During his hours of testimony, Harry discussed Mirror Group articles about his life, some of which were written when he was in elementary school, that revealed often distressing or damaging personal details.

One included details about his breaking his thumb at school.

“Not only do I have no idea how they would know that, but those sorts of things instill paranoia in a young man,” Harry testified, suggesting that his doctor’s phone could have been hacked to obtain the information.

Several of the stories focused on Harry’s relationship with Chelsy Davy, a former girlfriend, whom he began dating after he left school. The prince said that at one point the pair had found a tracking device on her car.

Crucially, the cross-examination of Harry produced no concrete evidence of phone hacking. That became a central question confronting the judge, who had to rule on whether a series of highly detailed stories about Harry’s private life amounted to sufficient proof that the Mirror Group tabloids had used illegal methods to obtain information about him.

A lawyer for the Mirror Group, Andrew Green, had pressed the royal for hard evidence that its journalists had hacked his phone and argued that much of the information that Harry and his legal team said was unlawfully obtained had actually been available from other sources, including from press officers associated with the royal family.

But ultimately, Justice Fancourt, in a 386 pages long ruling, found that there was enough evidence in almost half of the articles submitted by Prince Harry’s team that could be linked to phone hacking.

Crucially, because this was a civil case, the prosecution did not need to confirm there was hacking beyond all reasonable doubt, but simply that there was sufficient evidence to show it was likely.

There were four other plaintiffs in the case, and the judge determined that they had proved that unlawful means were used to gather information that was then published by the Mirror Group for all four.

In a statement, the Mirror group said that it welcomed the judgment, saying it “gives the business the necessary clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago.”

“Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologize unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation,” the company said in a statement.

David Sherborne, the lead lawyer representing Prince Harry and the other plaintiffs in the case, called the ruling “vindicating and affirming,” in a statement he read out on Harry’s behalf, outside the central London courtroom on Friday.

“This case is not just about hacking, it is about a systemic practice of unlawful and appalling behavior,” Mr. Sherborne said, adding that the most senior people in the news organization “clearly knew about or were involved in these illegal activities.”

Harry’s statement added that he hoped that the court findings would “serve as a warning to all media organizations” who have engaged in or considered illegal information gathering.

In late July, a judge in Britain ruled that only part of another lawsuit that Harry has filed against News Group Newspapers, owned by Rupert Murdoch, would go to trial next January.

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