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Prince Harry has won another big pay out to settle his phone-hacking case with the publisher of the Daily Mirror – and repeated calls for former Editor Piers Morgan to face criminal investigation.
It came as High Court judge Mr Justice said that Morgan’s former employers, Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), has been “shockingly dishonest” for concealing endemic wrongdoing at its Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, and Sunday People tabloids between 1996 and 2011.
It follows a comprehensive courtroom victory for the Duke of Sussex in December in which Justice Fancourt found that there could be “no doubt” Mr Morgan – the Daily Mirror’s Editor from 1995 to 2004 – knew about his newspaper’s hacking and habitual unlawful use of private investigators.
On Friday, MGN agreed to pay the prince an undisclosed sum in respect of 115 articles over and above the £140,000 he received last year for distress and invasion of privacy relating to 15 other illegally-obtained stories.
During the trial, it was heard that MGN was spending up to £925,000 a year on illegal snooping, targeting thousands of people of interest to the editors of MGN’s three titles.
Lawyers for the prince read a statement outside court in which he claimed a famous win and – focusing on Morgan, who did not defend himself at trial but attacked the judgment from his doorstep – called for the “rule of law” to be upheld.
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The prince said: “After our victory in December, Mirror Group have finally conceded the rest of my claim, which would have consisted of another two trials, additional evidence and 115 more articles.
“Everything we said was happening at Mirror Group was in fact happening, and indeed far worse as the court ruled in its extremely damning judgment.
“As the judge has said this morning, we have uncovered and proved the shockingly dishonest way the Mirror Group acted for many years and then sought to conceal the truth.
“In light of all this, we call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it. That includes Mr Morgan, who as Editor, knew perfectly well what was going on, as the judge held.
“Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth. His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment.
“As I said back in December, our mission continues. I believe in the positive change it will bring for all of us. It is the very reason why I started this, and why I will continue to see it through to the end.”
In its most recent statement on the matter, given to Byline Times last week, the Metropolitan Police said it was continuing to consider the content of Justice Fancourt’s 386-page ruling before deciding whether to re-initiate criminal inquiries into Morgan.
Morgan was first interviewed in February 2014 over phone-hacking by Scotland Yard’s Operation Golding. Despite Golding’s discovery of significant evidence – and the prospect of securing multiple former staff as witnesses against the company – and heavy expenditure of public resources on Golding, former Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders decided in 2015 that there was “insufficient” prospect of winning a conviction “in any” of 10 potential cases against MGN employees.
However, substantial evidence of criminal behaviour and cover up at MGN emerged last summer at trial during in which Justice Fancourt found endemic unlawful information gathering went on at MGN’s three national newspapers between 1996 and 2011.
At trial, former Mirror journalist Omid Scobie gave evidence that he heard Morgan being told a story about the singer and actress Kylie Minogue was sourced from a voicemail.
It also heard from former New Labour Downing Street Communications Director Alastair Campbell, who, according to the judge, gave “compelling evidence” that illegal techniques were used by the Mirror to obtain details of his mortgage.
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In addition, Melanie Cantor, an agent and publicist for the presenter and columnist Ulrika Jonsson, said that Morgan “always seemed to be the first person to know about events that had recently happened” involving her clients, and that invoices and phone records demonstrated that she had been repeatedly hacked by Morgan’s Mirror reporters.
The judge concluded that “sensitive information… was passed to Mr Morgan, who must have known how it had been obtained”.
The judge ruled that other key MGN figures, some of whom now hold senior roles at other organisations, were aware or likely aware of illegal activity – including Richard Wallace, now Piers Morgan’s boss at Murdoch-owned TalkTV and Neil Wallis, former Editor of The People who in 2015 was acquitted of phone-hacking charges relating to his time as Deputy Editor at the News of the World.
Others include Morgan’s Mirror Deputy Editor Tina Weaver (for whom he advocated in 2001 to become Sunday Mirror editor), Morgan’s former Features Editor Mark Thomas, and Sunday Mirror and The People Senior Editors Nick Buckley and James Scott – the journalist who handed Morgan one of his biggest Mirror scoops hacked straight from the voicemails of former England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson and television presenter Ulrika Jonsson.
The Duke of Sussex’s call for action from the authorities followed a bruising day for MGN in which it was ordered to meet the claimants’ costs of £1.9 million as they demonstrated that MGN had orchestrated a cover-up of illegality involving some former board members and the legal department, which the judge described as “shockingly dishonest”.
Justice Fancourt also rejected an application to appeal against his decision to apply limitation laws to some phone hacking cases – which give claimants a six-year countdown to bring legal action from the time at which they “reasonably” ought to have believed they had been wronged.
However, the matter, relating to the Duke’s co-claimants actress Nikki Sanderson and former wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, Fiona Wightman, will now be referred to the Court of Appeal directly for a decision on whether the judge’s findings merit review.
Dan Evans is a former employee of MGN and a witness for the claimants in Sussex & Ors vs MGN Ltd