Prince Harry fails to show up for court, will give evidence tomorrow; judge ‘surprised’ by his absence

Reuters |
Jun 05, 2023 06:58 PM IST

Green is seeking to question Harry for more than a day over 33 articles which the prince says were based on material which was unlawfully obtained.

Prince Harry failed to appear on Monday at the High Court in London where he is suing a British tabloid publisher, with the judge saying he was surprised by his absence and a lawyer for the papers calling his no-show "extraordinary".

Britain's Prince Harry at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on March 28. (AP)
Britain's Prince Harry at the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on March 28. (AP)

Also Read| Explained: Why is Prince Harry suing British tabloids?

Harry, King Charles' younger son, will face hours of questioning in the witness box on Tuesday, becoming the first senior British royal to give evidence in court for 130 years.

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He is one of more than 100 high-profile figures suing the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, for alleged phone-hacking and other unlawful behaviour between 1991 and 2011.

The trial began last month, as lawyers representing Harry and three other test claimants attempted to prove that unlawful information gathering was carried out with the knowledge and approval of senior editors and executives.

Harry's allegations are the focus this week, and the prince had been expected to attend on Monday.

Also Read| Prince Harry aspired for a normal life before marrying Meghan Markle - Interview

His lawyer David Sherborne told the judge, Timothy Fancourt, that Harry had flown from his home in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, after attending his daughter Lilibet's second birthday, but was not available to give evidence on Monday.

"His travel arrangements are such and his security arrangements are such that it is a little bit tricky," Sherborne told the packed courtroom.

Fancourt said he was "surprised" by Harry's absence while MGN's lawyer Andrew Green said it was "absolutely extraordinary" that the prince would not be there. He accused Harry's legal team of wasting the court's time, saying he had expected to start cross-examining the royal on Monday.

Green is seeking to question Harry for more than a day over 33 articles which the prince says were based on material which was unlawfully obtained.

Princess Diana ‘hacked’

Outlining Harry's case, Sherborne said some 2,500 articles had appeared about Harry's private life in the MGN titles during the period the allegations covered, from when he was a young boy at school through to the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in 1997 and his later military training and adult life.

There was "no time in his life when he was safe from these activities", Sherborne said, adding: "Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds and there was no protection from these unlawful information-gathering methods."

He also suggested Diana's phone had been hacked, referring to handwritten letters she had sent to a well-known TV presenter, Michael Barrymore, which detailed secret meetings between them after he had publicly disclosed he was gay.

In one letter, sent months before her death, she said she was devastated that the Daily Mirror had been contacting her office to ask about the meetings.

"Plainly the Daily Mirror has been listening in to voicemail messages," Sherborne said.

Royal aides in focus

MGN, now owned by Reach, apologised at the start of the trial for one admitted occasion that the Sunday People had unlawfully sought information about Harry, accepting he was entitled to compensation.

The publisher has previously admitted its titles were involved in phone-hacking and has settled more than 600 claims at a cost of more than 100 million pounds ($120 million) in damages and costs.

But it has rejected all Harry's other allegations, saying he had no evidence for his claims. Buckingham Palace is likely to feature prominently in Harry's cross-examination, with MGN arguing that some information had come from royal aides.

Sherborne said the suggestion there had been just one instance of unlawful information-gathering involving Harry was "plainly implausible."

In court documents, Harry said the impact of the alleged unlawful activities was to cause him "huge distress" and paranoia, blaming it for the breakdown of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

This week's appearance will be the second time this year Harry has attended the High Court, after joining singer Elton John and others for hearings in March over their lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mail tabloids.

Harry, the fifth-in-line to the throne, is engaged in several legal battles with the British press, including a similar phone-hacking case against Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper arm.

The prince has also accused his family and their aides in his memoir and Netflix documentary series of colluding with tabloids. The palace has not commented on those accusations.

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