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Harry Makes Court History: Prince Says ‘Piers Conspired to Hack Diana’ and he ‘Feared Stabbing Over Morgan Mirror Stories’

The Duke of Sussex’s testimony is the first to be given by a senior royal to a civil court in more than 130 years

Prince Harry arrives at the High Court in London on 6 June 2023. Photo: Frank Augstein/AP/Alamy

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Prince Harry has accused arch critic Piers Morgan of conspiring to phone-hack Princess Diana in an historic witness deposition to the High Court, Byline Times can be the first to report.

In his statement to the court, the Duke of Sussex reveals his drive to “hold those responsible” for targeting his mother in the months leading to her death in August 1997, as she fled paparazzi in a Paris subway car crash.

The 38-year-old, who is suing Morgan’s former employer Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), has said that he is determined to hold the former editor and others accountable for allegedly “vile and entirely unjustified behaviour”.

He also revealed that tabloid distortions often painted him in a light so negative that he feared being stabbed by a stranger, while the discovery of eight invoices allegedly proving that Diana was targeted left him feeling “physically sick”.

Harry’s extraordinary statement – the first given by a senior royal to a civil court in more than 130 years – is a 55-page narrative of a life lived under the tabloid microscope, illustrated with 50 articles that he says were derived from unlawful information gathering, allegedly extending to bugging and “live” tapping of landline telephones.

Wearing a dark blue suit and tie, Harry swore on the Bible to tell the truth. Asked to confirm his name, he replied quietly: “Prince Harry.”

In his own words, at Court 15 of the Royal Courts of Justice’s Rolls Building in central London, Harry relates an often-abusive relationship with a British tabloid press he claims illegally surveilled him from the age of just 13.

He further alleges that he was a victim to a wide range of unlawful spying techniques from the moment of his birth in 1984, alongside Prince William, via their mother and others in the royal household.

The roll-call of Harry’s associate victims reads, in part, like Debrett’s Peerage. King Charles, Prince William, Princess Kate, and various key royal staff including Harry’s childhood guardian Alexandra ‘Tiggy’ Shan Pettifer (nee Legge-Bourke) are all named as alleged victims of voicemail interception by Morgan’s Mirror.

Also included is the late television presenter Caroline Flack – whose suicide in 2020 was linked to negative tabloid exposure – and sports television presenter Natalie Pinkham.

Morgan, who won’t be defending himself from the witness box or facing cross-examination, is instead relying on MGN’s lawyers to attack Harry’s case, while commenting negatively via the media and Twitter, on which his profile handle states “live every day as if it’s your last… because one day you’ll be right”.

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Morgan – today the world’s best-paid journalist writing for Rupert Murdoch’s the Sun and presenting on fringe channel TalkTV – has always denied involvement in phone-hacking, doing so under oath to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics in 2012, although the manner of his evidence was later described by the judge as “utterly unpersuasive”.

Harry, through his legal team, is alleging that MGN eavesdropped on Princess Diana’s calls to the entertainer Michael Barrymore in 1997, leading to newspaper articles in Morgan’s Mirror, and prompting Diana to apologise in three letters to the former star, who was undergoing addiction treatment at the time.

Harry said: “The thought of Piers Morgan and his band of journalists earwigging into my mother’s private and sensitive messages (in the same way as they have me) and then having given her a ‘nightmare time’ three months prior to her death in Paris, makes me feel physically sick.”

Harry’s statement notes page 122 of Morgan’s book The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade, in which he stated: “[T]he TV comic [Barrymore] has recently been treated in a clinic for booze and drug addiction, and I’d heard rumours that Diana had been secretly comforting him.”

Morgan’s Mirror wrote about six private Sunday evening meetings between Diana and Barrymore, the exposure of which “devastated” the princess, according to Harry’s statement. “I can only assume that this information had been obtained via voicemail interception and/or other unlawful information gathering such as live land line tapping,” he stated.

Of his runs-in with the press over the years, the Duke’s statement is as candid as much of the evidence offered by MGN in the opening three weeks of this trial.

“It is no secret that I have had, and continue to have, a very difficult relationship with the tabloid press in the UK,” Harry said, without fear of overstatement, given this is one of three hacking actions he is presently bringing against UK news groups.

In his statement, Harry evoked his mother again – who once famously said “there were three of us” in her marriage to Charles in a reference to his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles – when he describes tabloid intrusions into his relationships, including for the six years until 2010 he was with South African girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

“Unfortunately, they are not just in a relationship with me but with the entire tabloid press as the third party,” he said – adding the newspapers were always “ultimately trying to ruin it using whatever unlawful means at their disposal”.

Harry hit out at the idea, long propagated by Fleet Street, that his status as a senior royal meant that any aspect of his life was somehow public property to be exploited by newspapers hungry for sales and profits.

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“Despite the common misconception,” Harry said, “I was no more than 5% funded by the taxpayer while I was a working royal in the UK, yet it felt as though the tabloid press thought that they owned me absolutely.”

He added: “I don’t understand (and never have) how the inner, private details of my relationships, for example, could have anything to do with the wellbeing of society or the running of the country and therefore be in the public interest or, indeed, how the use of voicemail interception and other unlawful information gathering techniques to uncover such private information could be either.”

Harry detailed the impact of tabloid intrusion on him during his most vulnerable years after Diana’s death and while he was supposedly under the protection of an agreement between Buckingham Palace and editors that he and William be left alone during their education.

“As a teenager and in my early 20s, I ended up feeling as though I was playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes that they wanted to pin on me mainly because I thought that if they are printing this rubbish about me and people were believing it, I may as well ‘do the crime’, so to speak,” the prince added. 

He went on: “It was a downward spiral, whereby the tabloids would constantly try and coax me, a ‘damaged’ young man, into doing something stupid that would make a good story and sell lots of newspapers. Looking back on it now, such behaviour on their part is utterly vile.”

Harry said the coverage got so bad it got to “the point where any one of the thousands of people that I met or was introduced to on any given day, could easily have gone ‘you know what, you’re an idiot – I’ve read all the stories about you and now I’m now going to stab you’’.’

The tabloid invasions played heavily on Harry the youngster, he explains.

“Whatever advantage people claimed I had by walking into a room as ‘Prince Harry’ was immediately flipped on its head, because I was facing judgments and opinions based on what had been reported about me, true or not,” he said.

Describing his royal upbringing in the tabloid glare as a “‘contractual relationship’ without any choice”, the Duke added: “The tabloids have known the challenges and mental health struggles that I have had to deal with throughout my childhood and adult life and for them to then play on that and use it to their own advantage, I think is, well, criminal.”

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Acknowledging that reporting also covered the successes in his life, he went on to describe the impact on him of stories allegedly sourced or ‘stood up’ – proven – allegedly using illegal snooping.

Of these articles, Harry said many were “often wrong but interspersed with snippets of truth, which I now think were most likely gleaned from voicemail interception and/or unlawful information gathering”.

He added: “As I am uncovering the extent of the unlawful activities carried out by MGN’s journalist and senior executives towards me, I feel somewhat relieved to know that my paranoia towards my friends and family had, in fact, been misplaced, although feel sad for how much it impacted my adolescence.”

Harry told how tabloid intrusion suffocated his relationship with Davy.

“On one of Chelsy’s first trips to the UK, I went to pick her up with my personal protection officers,” he said. “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 – I remember that someone was videoing me with one of those tiny little cameras between their legs.”

He added: “My security and I simply couldn’t know whether they were reaching for a camera or drawing some kind of weapon.”

The prince said that he and his brother “would often speak over the phone and regularly left voicemails for one another containing very private and sensitive information about our private, family and professional lives”. 

“We would discuss our personal relationships, education and careers as well as social arrangements over the telephone and voicemails,” he said. “I am aware that my brother was also a victim of phone-hacking and unlawful information gathering.”

Harry’s statement also reveals that a sense of duty is driving him to stand up to the tabloids.

“What I complain of here is illegal or unlawful, and that is something which I feel incredibly strongly about – not just in a personal capacity but as part of the role I have always tried to take as my duty to stand up to things which are wrong and the public or people without the same resources should not have to accept or undergo,” he said.

Andrew Green KC for MGN moved straight into cross-examination, quizzing Harry on the exact moment he read and reacted to some of the articles he is complaining about in his case.  

Some referred to Harry as a child, and the prince admitted he could not definitely pinpoint the moment he had read some of the articles, but said his friends and palace aides had. 

Mr Green asked: “If you did not read at the time, how can it have caused you distress?” 

In his statement, Harry referred to a “cover-up” of illegality by the mainstream news media. Alluding to his mother and Caroline Flack, he said: “People have died as a result, and people will continue to kill themselves by suicide when they can’t see any other way out. How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?” 

When Mr Green asked “who has blood on their hands?”, Harry replied “some of these editors and journalists responsible for causing pain, upset, and in some cases inadvertently, death”. 

The case continues.

Dan Evans is the Founding Editor of Byline Investigates. He was trained to hack phones by MGN in 2003. His evidence, given on behalf of the claimants, forms the basis for this Mirror Newspaper Hacking Litigation trial

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