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Prince Harry settles a tabloid phone hacking claim and says his mission to tame the media continues

  • February 10, 2024

LONDON — LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry said Friday that his “mission” to rein in the British media continues, after he accepted costs and damages from a tabloid publisher that invaded his privacy with phone hacking and other illegal snooping.

Harry’s attorney, David Sherborne, said at a court hearing that Mirror Group Newspapers had agreed to pay all of the prince’s legal costs, plus “substantial” damages, and would make an interim payment of 400,000 pounds ($505,000) within 14 days. The final tab will be assessed later.

Harry said he had been vindicated, and vowed: “Our mission continues.”

“We have uncovered and proved the shockingly dishonest way in which the Mirror acted for so many years, and then sought to conceal the truth,” the 39-year-old royal said in a statement read outside the High Court in London by his lawyer.

Harry was awarded 140,000 pounds ($177,000) in damages in December, after a judge found that phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” at Mirror Group Newspapers in the late 1990s, went on for more than a decade and that executives at the papers covered it up. Judge Timothy Fancourt found that Harry’s phone was hacked “to a modest extent.”

The settlement avoids new trials over 115 more tabloid articles that Harry says were the product of hacking or other intrusions.

Mirror Group said in a statement that it was “pleased to have reached this agreement, which gives our business further clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago and for which we have apologized.”

Harry’s case against the publisher of the Daily Mirror is one of several that he has launched in a campaign against the British media, which he blames for blighting his life and hounding both his late mother Princess Diana and his wife Meghan.

In June, he became the first senior member of the royal family in more than a century to testify in court during the trial of his case against the Mirror.

Harry, also known as the Duke of Sussex, was not in court for Friday’s ruling. He traveled to London from his home in California earlier this week to visit his father King Charles III, who has been diagnosed with cancer. Harry flew back to the United States about 24 hours later.

Harry still has ongoing cases against the publishers of The Sun and the Daily Mail over allegations of unlawful snooping. He recently dropped a libel case against the publisher of the Mail after an unfavorable pretrial ruling.

At Friday’s hearing, the judge ordered Mirror Group to pay some of the legal costs for three other claimants whose cases were heard alongside Harry’s.

Fancourt said that “all the claimants have been vindicated” by the court’s findings about the publisher’s misbehavior, and that legal costs had been increased by the company’s “attempts to conceal the truth.”

He ordered the publisher to pay “common costs” of a general case seeking to show wrongdoing by the company. That is separate from the legal costs of mounting individuals’ specific claims.

The judge said that the three other claimants must pay some of the Mirror Group’s costs in their individual cases, because they made exaggerated claims or failed to accept reasonable offers to settle.

The judge found in December that the privacy of all four claimants had been violated, but tossed out cases brought by actor Nikki Sanderson and Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, because they were filed too late. A claim by actor Michael Turner partially succeeded.

Phone hacking by British newspapers dates back more than two decades to a time when scoop-hungry journalists regularly phoned the numbers of royals, celebrities, politicians and sports stars and, when prompted to leave a message, punched in default passcodes to eavesdrop on voicemails.

The practice erupted into a full-blown scandal in 2011 when Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World was revealed to have intercepted messages of a murdered girl, relatives of dead soldiers and victims of a bombing. Murdoch closed the paper, and a former News of the World editor was jailed.

Newspapers were later found to have used other intrusive means such as phone tapping, home bugging and obtaining details of medical records through deception.

Mirror Group Newspapers said it has paid more than 100 million pounds ($127 million) in phone hacking lawsuits over the years, but denied wrongdoing in Harry’s case. It said it used legitimate reporting methods to get information on the prince.

Harry lashed out at former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, who denies knowing about phone hacking when he was at the paper.

In his statement Harry said Morgan “knew perfectly well what was going on.”

“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,” the prince said.

Morgan, who has accused Harry and Meghan of trying to “destroy” Britain’s royal family, said he agreed “that invading the privacy of the royal family is utterly reprehensible.”

“On that I share Prince Harry’s opinion. I just wish he’d stop doing it,” Morgan told reporters outside his London home.

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