In a significant legal victory for the Duke of Sussex, Mr. Justice Fancourt, a High Court judge, has found that Prince Harry’s phone was hacked “to a modest extent” by Mirror Group Newspapers. The ruling concluded that 15 out of the 33 articles written about Prince Harry between 1996 and 2009 were obtained illegally, resulting in damages totaling £140,600.
The judge acknowledged the “extensive” phone hacking activities at Mirror newspapers from 2006 to 2011, cautioning that the Duke’s assumption that all stories were obtained illegally was incorrect. He emphasized that Prince Harry’s phone was hacked to a limited extent, likely under careful control by specific individuals at each newspaper. The hacking incidents occurred intermittently from the end of 2003 to April 2009.
The court’s decision marks the first major outcome in Prince Harry’s legal battle against tabloid newspaper publishers. The Duke had filed a lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers, alleging 147 articles had been obtained illegally, covering various aspects of his life.
The judge ruled that two MGN directors, Sly Bailey and Paul Vickers, were aware of the hacking but chose to “turn a blind eye” and did not inform the board. Unlawful information gathering was deemed “widespread” in all three MGN newspapers from 1996 onwards.
Prince Harry sought approximately £440,000 in damages, while MGN argued he should only be entitled to around £37,000 if the judge ruled in his favor. The damages included amounts related to additional distress or injury to feelings.
During the trial, Prince Harry explained that he chose to sue the tabloids to safeguard his wife, Meghan, and to fight against the harassment, invasion of privacy, and hateful messages they were receiving. He also made history by becoming the first senior member of the Royal family to testify in court in over a century. The Duke pledged to work towards reforming the British media.
The judgment is expected to have implications for other claims against MGN, including those brought by actor Michael Turner (Michael Le Vell), actress Nikki Sanderson, and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.
Following the ruling, an MGN spokesperson welcomed the judgment, providing the necessary clarity for the business to move forward from past events.