By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) – Prince Harry was the subject of phone-hacking and other unlawful information gathering by British publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over several years, a judge at London’s High Court ruled on Friday.
Here are details of the case:
WHAT IS THE CASE ABOUT?
Harry and 100 others sued MGN, publisher of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People tabloids, accusing them of widespread unlawful activities between 1991 and 2011.
Those involved in the case include actors, sports stars, celebrities and people who simply had a connection to high-profile figures.
They accused the media group’s journalists or private investigators of phone-hacking on an “industrial scale” and obtaining private details by deception, and said that senior editors and executives knew and approved of such behaviour.
MGN, owned by Reach, contested the claims and denied senior figures were aware of wrongdoing. It also argued that some of the lawsuits were brought too late.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, was selected as one of the four test cases for the trial which began last May. On Friday, he was awarded 140,600 pounds (around $180,700) in damages in relation to 15 articles which were found to be the product of unlawful information gathering.
Judge Timothy Fancourt rejected Harry’s case that 18 other articles were the product of unlawful activities.
A further hearing will take place in January to decide the next steps in the remainder of the case.
WHAT IS PHONE-HACKING?
Phone-hacking, the illegal interception of voicemails on mobile phones, first came to public attention in 2006 when the then-royal editor of the News of the World (NoW) tabloid and a private investigator were arrested.
They pleaded guilty and were jailed in 2007.
In 2011 further revelations emerged, including that a murdered schoolgirl had been targeted, leading to Rupert Murdoch closing the paper, as well as a criminal trial.
In 2014, the NoW’s former editor, Andy Coulson, who later worked for then-Prime Minister David Cameron, was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones and jailed. Rebekah Brooks, who heads up News Corp’s UK operation, was acquitted of all charges.
The Mirror group had consistently denied its journalists had been involved in hacking, including at a public inquiry. But in 2014, it admitted liability and has since settled more than 600 claims at a cost of around 106 million pounds.
Fancourt said in his ruling that phone hacking was “widespread” at all three MGN newspapers from 1998 onwards. A judge in an earlier trial had previously found the practice was habitual between 1999 and 2006.
MGN also used phone hacking and other unlawful information gathering “extensively but on a reducing basis” from 2007 until 2011, including when a public inquiry into illicit practices at British newspapers was taking place.
WHAT DID HARRY SAY IN COURT?
The Duke of Sussex, the fifth-in-line to the throne, became the first British royal to appear in the witness box since the 1890s when he gave evidence over two days at the start of June.
Harry said he was targeted by MGN for 15 years from 1996 with more than 140 stories which appeared in its papers being the result of phone-hacking or other unlawful behaviour.
He blamed the intrusion for the breakdown of his relationship with a long-term girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, and said MGN had sown the distrust in Harry’s relationship with his elder brother Prince William, with whom he has since fallen out.
Andrew Green, MGN’s lawyer, suggested some of the personal information in the stories had come from senior Buckingham Palace aides, or was based on details already made public.
Fancourt said in his ruling that the hacking of Harry’s phone did not start “until late 2003 at the earliest, and then did not happen on a regular basis”, but that his friends and associates were more frequently targeted by MGN.
PIERS MORGAN INVOLVED?
A number of witnesses, including Harry himself, implicated senior figures from MGN as being involved in phone-hacking or at least aware it was going on. The most notable was Piers Morgan, now a high-profile TV presenter, who edited the paper between 1995 and 2004.
The Mirror’s former Group Political Editor David Seymour and Omid Scobie, who worked on the tabloid and has recently made headlines with a book about the royal family, were among those who pointed the finger at Morgan in their evidence.
Morgan has always denied any involvement in, or knowledge of, phone-hacking and said he would not “take lectures on privacy invasion from Prince Harry”.
In his ruling, Fancourt accepted Scobie’s evidence that Morgan had been reassured that a 2002 story about Kylie Minogue had come from phone hacking. Morgan declined to comment.
WHO ELSE IS PRINCE HARRY SUING?
The case is one of four that Harry is pursuing at London’s High Court against media organisations. He is also suing News Corp’s UK operation, News Group Newspapers (NGN), which publishes the Sun tabloid.
Along with singer Elton John and five others, he is suing Associated Newspapers (ANL), publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, over alleged phone-hacking and illicit privacy breaches. Harry is also suing ANL for libel.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Mark Heinrich and Jason Neely)