Prince Harry didn’t hold back during his testimony Tuesday against the publisher of the Daily Mirror, whom he has accused of using extreme, often illegal practices to obtain scoops on his personal life.
After he was sworn in, the Duke of Sussex, 38, sombrely told the courtroom he’s “experienced hostility from the press since I was born,” according to the BBC.
Harry has accused Mirror Group Newspaper of invading his privacy on an “industrial scale,” including hacking his phone to illegally listen to his voicemails. The prince, who wore a dark suit and tie to the courthouse, claimed these messages often contained sensitive information about his personal relationships and whereabouts.
Mirror Group has denied all phone hacking allegations made by Harry. The publisher has, however, admitted to hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt on the prince on one occasion. It also admitted to phone hacking in the past but has denied doing so in this case.
Harry testified the Daily Mirror regularly obtained scoops about his life that were “suspicious,” and served as evidence of the publisher’s phone tapping.
The trial surrounds tabloid articles published by Mirror Group Newspaper from as far back as Harry’s 12th birthday in 1996, when the Mirror reported Harry was feeling “badly” about the divorce of his mother and father, now King Charles III.
Harry testified the tabloid articles about himself played “a destructive role in my growing up.”
“It isn’t a specific article, it is all of the articles,” Harry said after Mirror Group’s lawyer, Andrew Green, pressed him for details. The prince could not recall the exact specifics of all the tabloid articles that allegedly caused him suffering.
“Every single article has caused me distress,” Harry defended.
Harry’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said the stories about Harry were big sellers for the newspapers. He claimed around 2,500 articles were published about Harry between 1996 to 2011, the timeline for this court case.
Harry testified eager reporters were “desperate for anything royal,” namely details of their private lives that would be of interest to the public.
Harry’s witness statement was released before he was cross-examined on Tuesday. The statement highlighted the “paranoia” he claimed to feel as a result of the tabloid’s reporting throughout his lifetime.
“Whenever I got into a relationship, they were very keen to report the details but would then, very quickly, seek to try and break it up by putting as much strain on it and creating as much distrust as humanly possible,” Harry said, according to the BBC. “I simply don’t understand (and never have) how the inner, private details of my relationships … could have anything to do with the well-being of society or the running of the country and therefore be in the public interest.”
He continued, claiming he felt “a huge amount of paranoia in my relationships” because of the tabloid articles.
Harry cited an instance where he visited the airport to pick up his then-girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, but was bombarded by paparazzi waiting for him to arrive.
“I walked into the arrivals hall with a baseball cap on and immediately spotted five separate paparazzi sitting on benches with cameras in bags, their hands inside rucksacks and everyone else looking at me,” Harry said in his statement. This, Harry said, is a prime example of how Mirror Group was using his illegally obtained voicemails.
“I genuinely feel that in every relationship that I’ve ever had — be that with friends, girlfriends, with family or with the army, there’s always been a third party involved, namely the tabloid press,” he said.
“How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?” Harry lamented in the statement. “I now realize that my acute paranoia of being constantly under surveillance was not misplaced after all.”
During cross-examination, Green grilled Harry on a number of tabloids the prince claimed proved Mirror Group had been hacking his phone. The 33 articles in the case include reporting about the prince’s childhood injuries, alleged experimental drug usage, his romantic relationships, and claim his mother, Princess Diana, cried while visiting him at school. Harry testified this is not information that would have been publicly available, though Green maintained Mirror Group wrote the stories based on eyewitness accounts and information from other news sources.
Harry also made history on Tuesday when he became the first member of the royal family to testify in court in more than a century. An ancestor, the would-be King Edward VII, appeared as a witness in a trial over a gambling scandal in 1891.
Harry was expected to appear in court on Monday for the trial’s opening statements but was absent. The duke, despite being told by the judge to be present, visited Los Angeles for the birthday of his two-year-old daughter Lilibet.
The case against Mirror Group is the first of the prince’s several lawsuits against the media to go to trial, and one of three alleging tabloid publishers unlawfully snooped on him in their cutthroat competition for scoops on the royal family.
Hacking — the practice of guessing or using default security codes to listen to celebrities’ cellphone voice messages — was widely used by British tabloids in the early years of this 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 slain 13-year-old girl. Owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the paper and several of his executives faced criminal trials.
Mirror Group has paid more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims and printed an apology to phone hacking victims in 2015.
— With files from The Associated Press