Evidence of phone hacking targeting the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, first surfaced 11 years ago during a trial of media executives from the now-defunct News of the World. Initially, Prince Harry refrained from legal action due to a royal culture that discourages lawsuits. However, after being introduced to barrister David Sherborne by friends Elton John and David Furnish, Prince Harry began to fight back against what has been termed in court as ‘unlawful information gathering’.
Despite some in the newspaper industry downplaying the significance of these cases, Prince Harry has achieved two major victories in his battle against phone hacking. Unlike most victims who settle with newspapers quietly, Prince Harry opted for a different approach. He rejected settlement offers, attended court, and gave evidence in person.
This strategy led to a judgement last year that not only supported his claims about 15 newspaper articles but also detailed what Mirror Group Newspapers knew about unlawful practices at its titles. This judgement was a significant boost for Prince Harry’s campaign, providing solid evidence for his claims of unfair victimisation by reporters and investigators seeking celebrity stories. It also paved the way for today’s settlement with MGN, although the damages awarded to Prince Harry (£300,000) are not the highest in a phone-hacking case.
Former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie suggested that Prince Harry accepted a smaller deal than he could have, indicating that he understands that the nation is not fully behind him. However, according to Prince Harry’s barrister, it was the Prince who made the offer to avoid larger legal bills.
Prince Harry’s fight is not about money but about effecting “positive change” in media culture. His ultimate goal is to defeat Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, and News Group Newspapers, now News UK, which publishes the Sun.
The legal battles are ongoing and will likely continue into 2024. A key factor in Prince Harry’s success will be getting Associated to disclose evidence about payments to private investigators who allegedly carried out phone hacking and personal information theft for the Mail titles.
Prince Harry’s campaign, while making him more enemies in the press, has not deterred him. He continues to call for the reopening of police investigations into press malpractice, using the civil case against Mirror Group as new potential evidence.