With Prince Harry to Testify in Hacking Case, Royals Prepare to Cringe

Prince Harry’s bitter, yearslong feud with Britain’s tabloid press will come to a head this week. He is scheduled to take the stand on Tuesday in a London courtroom for a lawsuit against the Mirror newspaper group on charges that it hacked his cellphone more than a decade ago.

For the younger son of King Charles III to appear on the witness stand is a milestone for the House of Windsor — he is the first senior royal to be cross-examined in a legal case since the 19th century — and it is not one his family is likely to relish.

Harry, who is also known as the Duke of Sussex, could face embarrassing questions about his personal life before he met his wife, Meghan, as well as about his relationships with other members of the royal family. Since he and Meghan withdrew from royal duties in 2020 and left Britain for Southern California, Harry has become estranged from his father, Charles, and his elder brother, Prince William.

Members of the royal family have preferred to settle legal claims rather than undergo the scrutiny of a courtroom. William settled a phone hacking case against Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper group, the News Group, for a “huge sum of money” in 2020, Harry claimed in a legal filing in a separate case this year.

So far, Harry has brushed aside any chances to settle, turning his campaign against the tabloid press into one of the animating causes of his life. He has said he holds the tabloids responsible for the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in 1997 after she was pursued by photographers.

Lawyers for the Duke of Sussex began laying out his case against Mirror Group Newspapers on Monday morning, detailing what they said were the unlawful means used by the media giant to gather information on the young royal and write a series of stories that were prominently featured in tabloids from 1996 to 2011.

Harry had been expected to be in the High Court in London on Monday as his lawyers laid out his case, but his legal team told the court that he would not appear until a day later.

David Sherborne, the barrister representing the prince, noted that he had “quite a lot of material that I need to show the court” and that he expected to take up the rest of the day. As a result, he said, Harry was planning to appear on Tuesday to give evidence. He said that Harry flew on Sunday evening from Los Angeles, where he was attending his daughter Lilibet’s second birthday party, and was arriving in London on Monday.

The judge, Timothy Fancourt, chastised Harry’s legal team for the prince’s failure to appear. The lead lawyer defending the media group, Andrew Green, expressed concern that he may not have the day and a half he said he needed to cross-examine the royal. But members of Harry’s legal team said that they would ensure the defense had the time requested.

In addition to the Mirror Group, Harry has filed lawsuits against the News Group, which publishes The Sun and The Times, and against the publisher of The Daily Mail. He is also suing Britain’s Home Office for removing his police protection after he and Meghan withdrew from their duties.

In a letter to the editors of four London tabloids in April 2020, Harry and Meghan condemned them as irresponsible and unaccountable, saying they pulled people’s lives apart “for no good reason, other than the fact that salacious gossip boosts advertising revenue.”

The Mirror Group trial is focused on charges that the papers hacked Harry’s cellphone, as well as those of his brother, aides and a former girlfriend, throughout the early 2000s. Harry is one of four plaintiffs, including two actors who appeared in the popular British TV series “Coronation Street.”

Lawyers for the Mirror Group contend that Harry and the other three plaintiffs waited too long to sue for acts that took place between 1991 and 2011. The Mirror admitted in 2014 that it engaged in phone hacking, and the following February it published a front-page apology to victims of the practice.

The trial promises to be a media spectacle, putting a spotlight on Harry’s bachelor life before he became a husband and a father. Among the boldface names it will resurrect is Chelsy Davy, whom he once dated.

In a legal filing, David Sherborne, a lawyer for Harry, said details obtained from intercepted voice mail messages from Ms. Davy resulted in intrusive articles, which put a strain on Harry and his relationship with her.

In one case, there was a series of suspicious calls to Ms. Davy’s cellphone in September 2009. Within a few days, two Mirror Group papers carried the headlines “Chelsy’s Harry’d Enough” and “Chelsy Breakup ‘Was on Cards.’” Both articles discussed the couple’s impending split in intimate detail.

Despite taking extreme efforts to keep details of their lives secret — including by having Ms. Davy travel under a pseudonym — Harry’s lawyer said reporters often turned up at places where the pair had agreed to meet.

“This led to the couple losing trust in numerous friends and experiencing undue pressure on their relationship,” Mr. Sherborne wrote. The scrutiny, he said, caused Harry “great distress and embarrassment, not least because of the concerns about security that he and his protection staff had.”

In addition to arguing that Harry waited too long to sue, the Mirror Group has cast doubt on his claim that it hacked Ms. Davy’s phone. Its lawyers said the calls were probably made to obtain comment after reports that she and Harry had split up.

Moreover, by 2009, employees of another tabloid, Mr. Murdoch’s News of the World, had received jail sentences for phone hacking. That made it unlikely, the lawyers said, that the Mirror’s journalists would have run the risk to intercept voice mail messages from either Harry or Ms. Davy.

Harry’s testimony could also shine a spotlight on Piers Morgan, a prominent British television broadcaster who was the editor of The Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, the period in which it was accused of phone hacking. Mr. Morgan has long denied any involvement in hacking or commissioning articles based on it, though lawyers for Harry said imagining he did not know about it was hard.

Mr. Morgan has since become a scathing critic of Harry and Meghan. When recently asked by a reporter from ITV about the trial, he said, “I am not going to take lectures on privacy invasion from Prince Harry, somebody who has spent the last three years ruthlessly and cynically invading the royal family’s privacy for vast commercial gain and told a pack of lies about them.”

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