Prince Harry wins partial victory in newspaper phone hacking claim

Prince Harry won a partial victory in his latest court case against British newspapers after a judge ruled Friday that there had been “extensive” phone hacking by the Mirror Group.

The High Court in London said that Harry’s personal cellphone was probably hacked “to a modest extent,” and the judge, Justice Timothy Fancourt, ruled that 15 out of the 33 news articles Harry submitted as part of the trial were the product of accessing his mobile voicemail.

Fancourt said that phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” over many years at the Mirror Group and that senior managers were aware of the practice and covered it up.

The partial victory means the Duke of Sussex, who is no longer a working royal following his acrimonious move to California with his wife, Meghan, will be awarded 140,600 pounds ($180,000).

Harry was not in court for the ruling but he said in a prepared statement read outside court by his lead attorney, David Sherborne, that the case had shown a “systemic practice of unlawful and appalling behaviour, followed by cover-ups and destruction of evidence, the shocking scale of which can only be revealed through these proceedings.”

He called for criminal charges to be brought against the publisher and said it was time for the police and prosecutors to “do their duty” and begin an investigation.

In a statement, Mirror Group Newspapers apologized.

“We welcome today’s judgment that gives the business the necessary clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago,” the company said.

“Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologise unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation.”

Harry’s statement said the ruling proves that senior editors and company executives, including Piers Morgan, all knew about hacking and had been lying about it ever since.

“The Court has found that Mirror Group’s principal board directors, their legal department, senior executives, and editors such as Piers Morgan, clearly knew about or were involved in these illegal activities,” he said.

“Between them, they even went as far as lying under oath to parliament, during the Leveson Inquiry, to the Stock Exchange, and to us all ever since.”

The judgment said: “There is compelling evidence that the editors of each newspaper knew very well that VMI [voicemail interception] was being used extensively and habitually and that they were happy to take the benefits of it.”

Morgan, who edited the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004, has always denied knowledge of or involvement in illegal phone hacking and has not yet commented on Friday’s judgment. Morgan is a frequent outspoken critic of Harry and Meghan in his regular columns, accusing them of of narcissism and hypocrisy in their criticism of the media.

Omid Scobie, a British journalist focusing on the royal family, testified that while working as an intern on the showbusiness desks at the Daily Mirror and the People in 2002, he was given a list of cellphone numbers and a detailed verbal description of how to access their owners’ voicemails.

He told the court that Morgan personally came over to ask about a story related to singer Kylie Minogue and how confident the team was about it. Morgan “was told that the information had come from voicemails,” Friday’s ruling said. The judge added that he found Scobie to be a “straightforward and reliable witness.”

Scobie found himself in the middle of a recent controversy after a Dutch translation of his latest book inadvertently named the two people who allegedly discussed the skin color of Prince Archie, Harry’s son.

The hacking case was brought jointly by four British celebrities or their families who each claim they were the victim of phone hacking. The claims from two — the former wife of a British comedian and a British soap opera star — were dismissed because they have run out of time.

The case saw Harry testify in in June, making him the first high-ranking royal to give evidence in court for 130 years.

This is the first of several lawsuits Harry has brought against British tabloid newspapers. Two ongoing suits against the publisher of the Daily Mail and the publisher of The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, are yet to be heard. Harry’s statement on Friday ended by saying: “The mission continues.”

Harry has spoken about how he holds the British press responsible for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris as she was pursued by paparazzi in 1997.

Not all Harry’s legal challenges have ended in victory, however. He was ordered Monday to pay nearly 50,000 pounds (more than $60,000) in legal fees after an unsuccessful libel suit against the publisher of the Daily Mail.

The Mirror Group owns three national newspapers, the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People, all so-called “red-top” tabloid titles that politically skew towards the left and the opposition Labour Party, but they have traditionally covered celebrity and showbusiness news with the same enthusiasm as their more conservative-leading rivals.

So-called phone hacking, also known in British journalism as “blagging,” is the where a reporter or private investigator illegally listens to someone’s cellphone voicemails by exploiting a simple security flaw: voicemails can be accessed remotely by anyone who knows a person’s cellphone number and their security code.

Because people would often neglect to change this code from the industrywide factory-standard number, a third party could listen to any messages left in the inbox.


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