Prince Harry spent nearly five hours on the witness stand on Tuesday airing his longstanding grievances against Britain’s famously unbridled tabloid press.
It was Harry’s first day testifying in the lawsuit he and three other claimants have brought in London against the Mirror newspaper group, which he has accused of long waging war on his family’s privacy, even hacking his personal phone.
His testimony is to continue on Wednesday. Here are the highlights from Day 1.
Prince Harry really doesn’t like the British media.
That may come as little surprise. His fight with the tabloids had been underway for years, after all, so we knew where Harry was coming from. But lest there be any doubt, on Tuesday he had this to say about reporters and editors in a written witness statement: “How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness.”
He characterized their behavior as “utterly vile” and “criminal” and elaborated on the impact on him personally, saying “their actions affected every area of my life.” The tabloid coverage, he said, spurred “bouts of depression and paranoia.” And to pursue his legal case, he said, he was “forced to relive a horrific period in my life.”
The prince is a skilled witness.
The last time a royal was cross-examined in a British courtroom is believed to have been 1891, but that does not appear to be fazing Harry. He kept his cool and his focus, and handled tough questions with poise.
“Would it be right to say you have a longstanding hostility toward the press because of its intrusion into your life,” he was asked at one point early in the hearing. “Yes, that is correct,” Prince Harry replied. Despite intense grilling from the Mirror Group’s lawyer, Andrew Green, Harry came across as soft-spoken, measured, precise and unwilling to be drawn into speculation. At one point he looked toward the judge,intensity clear on his face and in his voice, as he spoke of the distress these stories caused.
His testimony was deeply personal.
In his witness statement, Harry complained that royal family members are cast in preordained roles by the tabloids. “You’re then either the ‘playboy prince’, the ‘failure’, the ‘drop out’ or, in my case, the ‘thicko’, the ‘cheat’, the ‘underage drinker’ ‘irresponsible drug taker’, the list goes on,” he wrote.
This persona came to overshadow his life, he said. Whenever he entered a room, he “was facing judgments and opinions based on what had been reported about me, true or not.” When he was younger, he said, he “expected people to be thinking ‘he’s obviously going to fail this test, because he’s a thicko.’”
Even when the news was positive, such as when he passed a military assessment, there was a sting in the tale. “It feels like the tabloids were looking to find any way to build me up and then knock me down at every chance they had.” Press intrusion, he said, was “the main factor” for the end of his relationship with Chelsy Davy, a former girlfriend. More recently, he said, he and his wife have “been subjected to a barrage of horrific personal attacks.”
Harry wants people to see the bigger picture.
The British tabloids need to be held accountable, Harry said. “My view is how can anybody possibly trust a media organization, that enjoys the liberties of free press, when their own legal people and board covers up the truth?” he asked. “Even the police and the government are scared to hold them accountable or seek justice against them, they can truly believe they are above the law,” he said.
Discussing the specific breaches at the center of the lawsuit, Harry pointed to details cited in a litany of articles that, he suggested, could be explained only by phone hacking or other forms of illegal news gathering. He recalls how his whereabouts was suspiciously well known by paparazzi, including when he went to meet Ms. Davy at the airport or visited a nightclub. He recalled how sometimes the voice mail symbol on his phone would vanish before he had a chance to listen to the message, and how friends would ask him if he had heard voice mail messages he had never seen.
The Mirror says suspicion is not proof.
The publisher contends that the prince has provided no solid proof of phone hacking. Some of the articles in question were published before the prince had a phone, argued its lawyer, who told Prince Harry that however much sympathy there was for him over the troubling press intrusion, “it doesn’t necessarily follow from that, that it was the result of unlawful activity.”
Mr. Green spent much of Tuesday examining the stories Prince Harry cited, pointing to other possible explanations for how detailed information became known to reporters — including tipoffs, information from friends or aides, other press reports or just official statements from Buckingham Palace. The lawyer even cited “Spare,” the prince’s own memoir, in an attempt to refute Harry’s claim that a story about his drug taking may have come from unlawful means. Referring to the book, Mr. Green argued that the details included in at least one story may have come from the palace “playing ball” with the tabloid press, using his own words against him.
There were new insights into Royal Family strife.
Years before he stepped down from his official duties, Harry was worried that his place in the royal family was being undermined. In his witness statement, he cited articles based on a rumor that his biological father was James Hewitt, a former a cavalry officer and lover of Princess Diana. At the time, he wrote, he “wasn’t actually aware that my mother hadn’t met Major Hewitt until after I was born,” and he called the reports “hurtful, mean and cruel.” But he also added: “ I was always left questioning the motives behind the stories. Were the newspapers keen to put doubt into the minds of the public so I might be ousted from the Royal Family?”
In a different vein, it emerged from the testimony that the press is not the only British institution Harry holds in disdain. The prince appears to be no fan of the current British government. which is led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “At the moment,” he wrote, “our country is judged globally by the state of our press and our government — both of which I believe are at rock bottom.”
Megan Specia contributed reporting.
Stephen Castle is London correspondent, writing widely about Britain, including the country’s politics and relationship with Europe. @_StephenCastle • Facebook
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