Prince Harry Concedes Tabloid’s Stories Might Not Have Been Illegally Obtained

REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

Prince Harry was cool, calm, and collected in court Tuesday.

While he didn’t make any unforced errors, his grueling day on the stand showed the daunting task he faces in trying to prove Mirror Group Newspapers hacked his phone and published stories based on illegally obtained information.

Over and over again, the prince was effectively forced to concede that stories published by MGN about him may just as well have been obtained by legitimate means as illegitimate ones.

In one prime example, Harry complained about a December 2003 article in the Daily Mirror headlined “Beach Bum Harry,” which showed pictures of him swimming in the ocean in the Australian beach town of Noosa.

He wrote in his witness statement, “I remember this day so clearly, we were staying in a house and, after visiting Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Zoo in the morning, we had gone out onto the beach in front of the house in the afternoon. It was a public beach but not busy or popular, so I’m unclear how anyone had known we were there, to be in the right place at the right time to take photographs. I wasn’t aware of anyone taking photographs at the time.”

The fact that professional photographers took photographs of Harry swimming on a public beach, is, most would agree, hardly a surprising turn of events, but MGN’s lawyer Andrew Green had a further trick up his sleeve.

He pulled up an article published a few days prior to the Mirror story, from the Evening Standard, that reported that Harry was in Noosa.

“Anyone who wanted pictures of you or your friends just had to head to Noosa, didn’t they?”

Harry said that trying to find him on the town’s large beaches would be a “needle in a haystack” situation, to which Green simply responded that many photographers may have been prepared to look for that needle.

Green said that while “everyone has enormous sympathy” for the “extraordinary degree of press intrusion” Harry has been subjected to over his lifetime, that doesn’t mean he has been the victim of unlawful information gathering.

This, increasingly, became the pattern of the day: Green would select an article that Harry had highlighted in his written witness statement and effectively say to Harry, where is your proof that this was based on phone hacking? Who is to say it didn’t come from other sources, either at the palace or elsewhere?

And Harry would be reduced to insisting that it “must” have come from illegal sources and that Green should ask the authors where it came from—but they have refused to appear in court and Harry should know full well that journalists never reveal their sources.

Green then repeatedly tore into Harry’s essentially unsubstantiated claims that various articles simply must have been obtained by phone hacking.

Another article about his time in Australia was alleged by Harry to be based on illegally gathered information because it included a line about him staying inside “watching videos.”

In his statement, Harry said, “I’m not sure how they knew what I was doing inside, the whole purpose of me avoiding the cameras was to avoid everyone knowing what I was doing at all times. It was suffocating. I was only in Australia with a couple of U.K. bodyguards, so this is the kind of thing I would have moaned about over the phone and in voicemails.”

Green also pointed out that there was other information in the piece that came from a palace spokesperson, and asked Harry if he accepted that was the case.

“Yes. Some of it, yes,” Harry said grudgingly.

Green was also handed an opportunity to use Harry’s memoir, Spare, against him, which he took. In one part of his witness statement, Harry said he was “firmly against” meeting Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, whom he allegedly called a “two-faced shit” in a conversation with his brother, Prince William. But in his book, Green pointed out, Harry describes how he wanted a meeting with Burrell.

“There’s no suggestion [here] that you were firmly against the meeting,” Green said.

“No, because I wrote it when I was 38 years old—in this story I was 18,” Harry replied.

Green said that was “not the point” and asked whether his witness statement or his recollection in Spare was “correct,” a line of questioning that resulted in Harry conceding that he couldn’t remember what he would have wanted at the time.

It was not a great look. Nor did Harry come off well from Green’s suggestions that Harry didn’t actually read many of the articles he is now complaining about, including one published when he was 11 years old.

Green asked, “If you didn’t read the article at the time how can you say this article caused you distress?”

Harry replied, “It had an effect on my life and the people around me. My mother in this case.”

Green also pointed out that many of the articles Harry was complaining about were based on information already public, including an article about Diana visiting Harry at school on his birthday that was actually announced by the palace to a news agency the previous day.

Over and again, Harry said words to the effect that he was “at a complete loss” to understand how details in stories were obtained, and Green would reply that, upsetting as that may have been, it hardly counted as proof that journalists acted illegally.

One moment where Harry did score a point was when he described going to meet his then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy off a flight only to find multiple photographers waiting for her—and him.

Asked what made him think the photographers were there based on illegally gathered intelligence, as opposed to being tipped off by a legitimate source, Harry said there was no way her flight details would have been known outside a small group of trusted insiders, and they wouldn’t have been leaked by them because it created a huge security risk.

The purpose of cross-examination is, officially, to poke holes in a witness’s story. Green did that effectively. But of course, a cross-examination is also about poking the defendant’s ego, and maybe getting them to snap or react in a way that makes them look bad.

The reality, of course, is that Harry only needs to establish one instance of unlawful information gathering to win his case. The Mirror needs to knock down every single allegation made by Harry. And the case is not being adjudicated by a jury, but by the single judge who is presiding over the court.

This was never going to be a great day for Harry, but it succeeded in failing to give his tormentors the satisfaction of seeing him rise to the bait. For that, his legal representatives will be giving thanks—and hoping he can maintain the same equilibrium when the cross-examination resumes tomorrow.

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