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At phone-hacking trial, Prince Harry testifies press has been hostile since his birth

Prince Harry arrives at the High Court in London on Tuesday to testify against a tabloid publisher he accuses of phone hacking and other unlawful snooping.
Kin Cheung
/
AP
Prince Harry arrives at the High Court in London on Tuesday to testify against a tabloid publisher he accuses of phone hacking and other unlawful snooping.

LONDON — "How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness?"

Those were some of the first words in Prince Harry's witness statement Tuesday at the High Court in London, where he's been giving evidence against the publisher of the British tabloid, The Daily Mirror. His 49-page statement was released to the media as he took the stand.

In it, Harry described the toll press intrusion had on him and his relationships, saying news stories "played a destructive role" as he grew up. In his teenage years, he said the tabloids' "vile" behavior led him into a "downward spiral."

He also claimed that some editors and journalists had inadvertently caused death — a veiled reference to the 1997 paparazzi car chase that led to the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, in Paris.

The Duke of Sussex told the court he hopes to be that "someone" who'll put a stop to what he called the "madness" of tabloid practices in Britain. The 1990s and early 2000s era of tabloid phone-hacking is largely over because of phone encryption and dwindling ad revenues, and U.K. newspapers have paid more than $1 billion to settle victims' claims. But there has yet to be a public reckoning of which U.K. newspaper editors knew of the practice and when. That's what Harry has said he wants.

He's the first royal to testify in court since the 19th century. He arrived at the High Court in London dressed in a dark suit, passing the crowds of photographers and journalists gathered outside. In the courtroom, he sat in a wood-paneled box in the corner. He was sworn in, and his lawyer, David Sherborne, confirmed that he would be called "His Royal Highness" on first reference, and later as "Prince Harry."

On Monday, the prince was criticized for not showing up in court for the start of the trial, with the judge saying he was a "little surprised" by his absence.

Harry is one of a number of claimants suing the Mirror's publishers, the Mirror Group, for using what they say were unlawful methods to obtain stories — including phone hacking.

The prince testified that his decision to move to the United States in 2020 was "in large part" due to the "constant intrusion of the press," adding that tabloid attention "had a devastating impact" on the "mental health and well-being" of him and his U.S.-born wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. He has also accused the tabloids of being racist in their coverage of Meghan.

Legal analysts say that for Harry's lawsuit to be successful, he doesn't only need to show how the tabloids affected his life. He also needs to prove his case: that his phone was hacked and information was obtained illegally, by journalists or private investigators hired by the Mirror newspaper group.

To that end, the prince described how he first began to suspect that his voicemails were being intercepted. He said articles would include "snippets of truth."

"The tabloids would routinely publish articles about me that were often wrong but interspersed with snippets of truth, which I now think were most likely gleaned from voicemail interception and/or unlawful information gathering," he said in his written statement submitted to the court.

"This created an alternative and distorted version of me and my life to the general public," he said.

Later Tuesday, Harry was being cross-examined by the Mirror Group's lawyer, a man renowned in London legal circles for being a "beast in the court." Andrew Green has been forensically going through each of the 147 newspaper articles that Harry is basing his claim on, looking for holes in his argument.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fatima Al-Kassab