Prince Harry takes the stand against UK’s tabloid press

Prince Harry, along with other famous individuals, is pursuing compensation from Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) due to their unlawful collection of information, including phone hacking. Harry's case, one of four selected for trial, will also determine the amount of damages if successful.

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During the trial, MGN acknowledged “some evidence” of illegal information gathering, specifically concerning a story about Harry. However, they refuted all allegations of voicemail interception and contended that some claims were filed after the statute of limitations.

Prince Harry took the stand on Tuesday and Wednesday in one of his many lawsuits against the UK tabloid press wrongdoing in an attempt to hold the tabloid press accountable and instigate nationwide reforms. He is the first senior royal to take the stand in court since the 1900s.

Harry reminded the court that “industrial-scale hacking” had taken place and on Wednesday said “Mirror Group newspapers have admitted to hacking and I would feel it to be an injustice if the court found phones weren’t hacked”. The Mirror Group is the publisher of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People tabloids.

The damages the MGN could incur should the group be found guilty, could be greater than just the pay-out, also risking the share price to take a hit. The Daily Mail, one of the MGN’s and the UK’s highest circulating papers, counted some 2 million readers in the 1990s, now down to approximately 400,000 readers.

There are few people in the world with the notoriety, the following and therefore the power to publicise this particular trial which could finally limit the liberties and the methods used by the tabloid press in the UK if the court deems the evidence of unlawful information-gathering is sufficient.

The media frenzy that tabloids generate, and the privacy leaks incurred have led many celebrities and now royals to request the UK press be better regulated for decades, not least since allegedly causing the death of Princess Diana when her car was chased by a mob of paparazzi in Paris.

Another legal action involves Harry and musician Elton John, who are among several claimants suing Associated Newspapers (ANL), the publisher of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, for privacy breaches. The claimants accuse ANL of employing tactics such as hiring investigators, intercepting phone calls, and impersonating individuals to acquire medical information for articles. The alleged unlawful acts spanned from 1993 to 2011, with some occurring as recently as 2018. ANL has dismissed these allegations, seeking to avoid a trial. A verdict will be announced later.

In a separate lawsuit against the Daily Mail publisher, Harry is pursuing a libel claim regarding an article about his legal battle with the British government over security arrangements while in the UK. The article, published by The Mail on Sunday in February last year, implied that Harry attempted to conceal the legal challenge. ANL argues that the article did not cause significant harm to Harry’s reputation and expressed an “honest opinion.” Harry’s legal team has requested the court to dismiss ANL’s defense or issue a judgment in his favor without a trial. The verdict is pending.

Harry is also suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), a part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, for illicit information gathering. NGN, the publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World tabloids, is seeking to dismiss the claims without a trial, citing the expiration of the legal timeframe. However, Harry contends that the delay in filing the lawsuit against NGN resulted from a purported “secret agreement” between the royal family and the publisher. NGN denies the existence of such an agreement. Actor Hugh Grant has also filed a similar claim against NGN, which recently received permission from the High Court to proceed to trial.

In a statement on Tuesday amid some 55 pages of written speech, Prince Harry said, “On a national level as, at the moment, our country is judged globally by the state of our press and our government – both of which I believe are at rock bottom.”

As Prince Harry wages his war against the extreme measures some journalists resort to among the British tabloid press, we are reminded of the fine line between the freedom of the press and the power British tabloid press hold and the unlawful methods they employ in order to obtain information.

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