In a surprising turn of events, Prince Harry failed to appear in court for his highly-anticipated phone hacking case, causing frustration among the judiciary. The Duke of Sussex, aged 38, is one of several claimants suing Mirror Group Newspapers in the prestigious British High Court, accusing journalists from tabloid newspapers of illegally obtaining stories about him through methods such as phone hacking. However, his absence on the first day of proceedings raised eyebrows.
Justice Timothy Fancourt, presiding over the case, expressed his surprise at Prince Harry’s no-show. The Duke, who is expected to give evidence on Tuesday, claimed that his absence was due to attending his daughter Lilibet’s birthday party in the United States and subsequently flying to London overnight. His lawyer, David Sherborne, defended Prince Harry’s absence, citing his unique travel and security arrangements, asserting that he would be present to provide evidence as planned on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Andrew Green, the lawyer representing Mirror Group Newspapers, voiced his deep concern over Prince Harry’s absence, deeming it “extraordinary” and suggesting that the Duke may be wasting the court’s time. Green emphasized the extensive cross-examination he had prepared, involving 33 articles, which he argued could not be adequately addressed in a single day. The absence of the Duke potentially disrupted the carefully planned schedule.
Justice Fancourt appeared visibly irritated by the situation, particularly as it jeopardized the readiness of Prince Harry to provide evidence on Monday if the opening statements concluded earlier than expected. The judge expressed his frustration, pointing out that witnesses were explicitly instructed to be available the day before their scheduled testimony in case proceedings progressed swiftly.
During the opening statements, Prince Harry’s lawyer, David Sherborne, presented compelling examples from the 33 stories forming the foundation of the Duke’s claim against the newspapers. Sherborne contended that the publications prioritized sales by focusing on Prince Harry’s private life. He argued that no aspect of Prince Harry’s life remained immune to the newspapers‘ illegal information-gathering methods, and no boundaries or protections were respected.
Sherborne further alleged that Mirror Group Newspapers had employed approximately 30 private investigators to obtain information about Prince Harry. While MGN admitted to only one instance of instructing a private investigator unlawfully, Sherborne dismissed this as implausible, given the substantial potential for lucrative stories about Prince Harry and the extensive period of illegal activity involving MGN publications.
Justice Fancourt pushed back on Sherborne’s assertion, questioning whether the assumption of illegal information gathering should be made if the same information appeared in a different newspaper on a previous day. MGN contended that many of the articles were simply rewrites of other newspapers’ work. Sherborne countered that the evidence, including the discovery of contact details in the PalmPilots of journalists involved in previous unlawful activities, strongly suggested that Prince Harry’s information was also obtained illegally.
As the case unfolds, the absence of Prince Harry on the first day of proceedings adds a layer of complexity and intrigue. The court awaits his testimony on Tuesday, which will mark a historic event as he becomes the most senior member of the royal family to be cross-examined in court since the 1890s. The case continues to captivate the public’s attention, with implications for the future of media ethics and privacy rights.