Prince Harry is expected to testify in a London courtroom this week, the latest chapter in a long-running, bitter dispute he and his wife, Meghan, have with several British newspapers over privacy rights.
His testimony, the first by a senior member of the royal family since the 19th century, is scheduled to begin Tuesday at the trial in one of three lawsuits that Harry has filed against Britain’s tabloid publishers. The trial, which began in May, concerns accusations of phone hacking at three papers: The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People.
Here’s what to know about the trial.
What are the allegations?
Harry, the Duke of Sussex and the younger son of King Charles III, alleges that journalists at the three tabloids targeted him and those in his inner circle by accessing his voice mail messages and using other illicit methods between 1996 and 2011. As a result, the prince suffered “considerable distress” and began to distrust those around him, including his closest friends, according to a legal filing. Harry submitted nearly 150 news articles to the court that he said relied on illegally obtained information.
On May 10, the publisher of The Mirror admitted unlawfully gathering information on Harry in one instance and apologized. However, the publisher denied that its journalists hacked into Harry’s voice mail messages and said that too much time had passed since the intrusions, which should prevent the case from proceeding. Piers Morgan, the TV host who was the editor of The Mirror during some of the years that the trial involves, has also denied wrongdoing.
Harry has two other lawsuits against British tabloids related to illicit information-gathering: One is against the publisher of The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, and involves other plaintiffs, including the singer Elton John and the actresses Sadie Frost and Elizabeth Hurley. The other lawsuit is against the publisher of The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Both publishers deny the allegations and have asked to have the cases dismissed. A judgment is expected in the coming months.
What is Harry’s objective?
For the prince, this is about more than just money. Harry has likened the tabloids’ coverage of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to their treatment of his mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car accident in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi. In his tell-all memoir, “Spare,” published in January, Harry described the trauma that intrusive tabloid coverage has caused him.
In May, Harry, Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland, were swarmed by paparazzi in New York in what a spokesperson for the couple initially described as “a near catastrophic car chase.”
Harry’s suit against News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun, alleges that, in addition to phone hacking, the organization illegally obtained information such as his medical records. The actor Hugh Grant, who appeared in court in April, is also bringing a separate legal action against The Sun for allegedly hiring private investigators to break into his house.
Is Prince William involved?
In a legal filing in April, Harry revealed that News Group Newspapers paid his brother, William, the heir to the throne, a “huge sum of money” in 2020 to settle claims that its journalists hacked his cellphone. The payment was part of a “secret agreement” between the publisher and the royal family, in which the family would defer legal claims against the company and avoid the spectacle of having to testify about embarrassing details from their intercepted voice mail messages, the filing said.
News Group Newspapers declined to comment on whether it had settled with William but denied that there had been a secret agreement with the royal family.
Legal cases have also included Meghan.
All three of Harry’s current lawsuits involve time periods before he and Meghan met, in 2016. But since then, his feud with the British press has escalated further, as tabloids churned out sensationalized coverage of Meghan.
The couple has won significant sums as part of numerous lawsuits, including a settlement in 2021, when a judge ruled that The Mail on Sunday had invaded Meghan’s privacy by publishing a letter she wrote to her estranged father in 2018, four months after she married Harry.
The phone-hacking scandal that rocked Britain.
For the tabloids’ owners, Harry’s lawsuits serve as an immediate and potentially costly headache, as well as an unwelcome reminder of a difficult period.
Phone-hacking allegations at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid date back to 2005, when Prince William’s staff told the authorities that his phone had been hacked.
In 2011, The News of the World, which was also owned by Mr. Murdoch and was once the best-selling Sunday paper in Britain, was shut down after a public outcry over revelations that journalists at the paper had hacked the voice mail of a teenager, Milly Dowler, who was abducted in 2002 and later found dead. The scandal resulted in a high-profile parliamentary inquiry into phone hacking and other illegal practices. Andy Coulson, a top editor at the paper, was found guilty of illegally intercepting voice mail messages.
Fallout from the phone-hacking scandal has cost Mr. Murdoch’s British publishing business more than 1 billion pounds (about $1.3 billion), according to an investigation by Press Gazette, a British trade magazine.