Prince Harry a no-show on first day of court showdown with British tabloid publisher

FILE - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex leave after a service of thanksgiving for the reign of Queen Elizabeth II at St Paul's Cathedral in London, Friday, June 3, 2022. The Duke of Sussex is scheduled to testify in the High Court after his lawyer presents opening statements Monday, June 5, 2023 in his case alleging phone hacking. Its the first of Harrys several legal cases against the media to go to trial and one of three alleging tabloid publishers unlawfully snooped on him. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool, File)

(Matt Dunham / Associated Press)

Prince Harry a no-show on first day of court showdown with British tabloid publisher

June 5, 2023

The trial over Prince Harrys phone-hacking lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily Mirror kicked off without him present in court Monday and the judge at London’s High Court was not happy.

Harry’s lawyer said the prince, who is also known as the Duke of Sussex, would be unavailable to testify after opening statements because he’d taken a flight from Los Angeles on Sunday after the birthday of his 2-year-old daughter, Lilibet.

I’m a little surprised, Justice Timothy Fancourt said, noting that he had directed Harry to be in court for the first day of his case.

Mirror Group Newspapers’ lawyer, Andrew Green, said he was deeply troubled by Harrys absence on the trial’s opening day.

Harry was scheduled to testify Tuesday, but his lawyer was told last week that the prince should attend Monday’s proceedings in case the opening statements concluded before the end of the day.

The case against the publisher of the Daily Mirror is the first of the prince’s several lawsuits against the media to go to trial, and one of three alleging that tabloid publishers unlawfully snooped on him in their cutthroat competition for scoops on the royal family.

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Harry, 38, will be the first member of the British royal family in more than a century to testify in court. He is expected to describe his anguish and anger over being hounded by the media throughout his life, and its impact on those around him.

He has blamed the paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and said harassment and intrusion by the British press, including allegedly racist articles about his wife, Meghan, led the couple to flee to the U.S. in 2020 and leave royal life behind.

The articles at issue in the trial date back to his 12th birthday, in 1996, when the Mirror reported that Harry was feeling badly about the divorce of his mother and father, now King Charles III.

Harry said in court documents that ongoing tabloid reports made him wonder whom he could trust as he feared that friends and associates were betraying him by leaking information to the newspapers. His circle of friends grew smaller, and he suffered huge bouts of depression and paranoia.” Relationships fell apart as the women in his life and even their family members were dragged into the chaos.

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He says he later discovered that the source wasn’t disloyal friends but aggressive journalists and the private investigators they hired to intercept voicemails and track him to locations as far away as Argentina and an island off Mozambique.

Mirror Group Newspapers said that it didn’t hack Harry’s phone and that its articles were based on legitimate reporting techniques. The publisher admitted and apologized for hiring a private eye to dig up dirt on one of Harry’s nights out at a bar, but the resulting 2004 article, headlined Sex on the beach with Harry,” is not among the 33 in question at trial.

Phone hacking that involved guessing or obtaining security codes to listen in on celebrities cellphone voice messages was widespread at 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 News of the World, and several of his executives faced criminal trials.

Mirror Group has paid more than $125 million to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims, and printed an apology to phone hacking victims in 2015. But it denies that executives including Piers Morgan, who was editor of the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004 knew about hacking.

Harry’s fury at the British 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 conducted by Oprah Winfrey and others. His claims will face a tough audience in court when he is cross-examined by Mirror Group’s attorney.

The opening statements mark the second phase of a trial in which Harry and three others have accused the Mirror of phone hacking and unlawful information gathering.

In the first phase, attorney David Sherborne, who represents Harry and the other claimants, including two actors from the soap opera Coronation Street,” said the unlawful acts were widespread and habitual at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, and carried out on an industrial scale.

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Two judges including Justice Timothy Fancourt, who is overseeing the current trial are in the process of deciding whether Harrys two other phone-hacking cases will proceed to trial.

Murdochs News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun, and Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, have argued that the cases should be thrown out because Harry failed to file the lawsuits within a six-year window of discovering the alleged wrongdoing.

Harrys lawyer has argued that he and other claimants should be granted an exception to the time limit because the publishers lied to hide the illegal actions.