Prince Harry ended more than seven hours of intense, sometimes confrontational, testimony in a London courtroom on Wednesday, having put the ethics of Britain’s freewheeling tabloid press on trial even as he struggled to produce conclusive proof of lawbreaking by reporters.
Over two grueling days the prince spoke on the witness stand to accuse Mirror Group Newspapers of intercepting his voice mail messages and using other unlawful means to gather information about everything from his school sports injury and youthful drug use to the ins and outs of a breakup.
While the cross-examination of Prince Harry produced no concrete evidence of phone-hacking, it underscored the central question confronting the trial judge: whether a pattern of suspiciously detailed reporting of the prince’s private life amounts to sufficient proof that tabloids used illegal methods.
The newspaper group has denied the claims and insists that information in the 33 articles cited by the prince came from legal means, including other news reports, tipoffs and even official communications from Buckingham Palace.
Prince Harry, 38, is the first prominent member of the British royal family to face cross-examination in a court in more than a century. He was challenged repeatedly to substantiate his allegations without being able to provide definitive — rather than circumstantial — evidence.
Yet trawling over the reporting of deeply personal events, the prince suggested, seemed a price worth paying in his legal pursuit of the tabloids, which Harry has described as a force that cast a shadow over his youth and that continues to hound those close to him.
“For my whole life, the press have misled about me and covered up their wrongdoing,” Prince Harry said when questioned by his own lawyer, David Sherborne, while looking at the judge. He said that the suggestion that he was “speculating” about the tabloids’ actions, when the defense “has the evidence in front of them,” was baffling.
“I am not sure what to say about that,” he said.
Questioned about why he chose to take the case against The Mirror, Harry, also known as the Duke of Sussex, said that his early conversation with lawyers focused on how to “somehow find a way to put the abuse, intrusion and hate that was coming toward me and my wife to a stop,” through a legal route “rather than relying on the institution’s way.”
The institution is Buckingham Palace, which the prince has accused of brokering deals with the tabloids — rather than calling out their excesses and defending him and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
At times, Prince Harry clashed in court with Andrew Green, the lawyer representing the Mirror Group, in particular when he suggested that the prince’s military deployment in Afghanistan was an issue of public interest and worth reporting.
“Are you suggesting that while I was in the army that everything was available for the press to write about?” the prince asked.
“Can I just repeat this isn’t about you asking me questions, it’s about me asking you questions,” Mr. Green responded.
Throughout his appearance, Harry has appealed to the judge — and to the wider audience outside the court — by stressing the toll that intrusive reporting took on his mental health, friendships and romantic relationships.
On Wednesday he also spoke of the impact of the trial on Chelsy Davy, a former girlfriend, who was featured in several of the stories the prince and his legal team cited. “This is a past girlfriend who now has her own family and this process is as distressing for her as it is for me,” he said.
Asked by his own lawyer about his claim that a freelance journalist and private investigator had been responsible for putting a tracking device on Ms. Davy’s car in South Africa, the prince replied: “Because we found it.”
In the afternoon, after Prince Harry completed his cross-examination, the tables were turned as his lawyer, Mr. Sherborne began questioning another witness, Jane Kerr, who spent two decades as a journalist at The Daily Mirror in the 1990s and 2000s.
As its royal editor, Ms. Kerr — who confirmed that she was summoned to court — was the author of several of the articles that Prince Harry and his legal team have cited in their lawsuit.
Again, the cross-examination was testy as Mr. Sherbourne asked probing questions about the paper’s broader news-gathering techniques, focusing on how The Daily Mirror had covered the terrorist bombings in London in July 2005 that killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.
When Mr. Sherbourne asked why requests for information on victims were outsourced by Ms. Kerr — up to 900 times — to a company called Commercial & Legal Services, one of a number of entities known to have engaged in unlawful information gathering techniques, she repeatedly said she did not remember.
“You don’t remember, or you don’t want to remember, Ms. Kerr?” Mr. Sherborne asked.
Quizzed on whether she knew how many of the third parties she was working with to obtain data — including freelancers, investigators and news agencies — got that information, Ms. Kerr insisted that she did not.
“It didn’t occur to me that anything was unlawful,” Ms. Kerr added as the focus of the trial shifted onto the problematic news-gathering practices deployed by the tabloids.
However, it remains to be seen whether these accounts will convince a High Court judge that Mirror Group journalists unlawfully targeted the royal in the articles, as Prince Harry claims they did. The verdict is likely to come later this month.
And, while the prince seemed satisfied to have confronted sections of the media he despises, his final contribution to a tense hearing suggested that his day in court had come at some personal cost.
“You’ve been sat in the witness box for over a day and a half, you’ve had to go through these articles and answer questions in a very public courtroom, knowing the media is watching,” his lawyer said, adding, “How has that made you feel?”
Prince Harry paused for a moment before answering to the silent courtroom, with his voice seeming to slightly break: “It’s a lot.”
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