Prince Harry said the reputation of the British government and media is “at an all-time low”, as he testified to Mirror Group Newspapers at the High Court in London on Tuesday.
The Duke of Sussex, the first British royal to testify in court since the 19th century, described the impact of “incredibly invasive” articles that sent him into a “downward spiral”.
Prince Harry, along with three other plaintiffs, has alleged that the media group has illegally collected information from its three titles, including the Daily Mirror, over a period of nearly 20 years.
The plaintiffs allege the titles engaged in phone hacking and using private investigators in a “flood of illegality”. Mirror Group denies the allegations and is defending the case.
Prince Harry will be cross-examined by Mirror Group lawyer Andrew Green KC on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings on 33 articles in his court case published between September 1996 and April 2009.
The stories cover topics such as his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy, which the prince says was the result of illegal information gathering.
In a breach of royal protocol, the prince used his appearance to criticize the incumbent government. In his testimony, he said that “at the national level, our country is currently being judged globally by the state of our press and our government – both of which I believe are at an all-time low.”
He added: “Democracy fails if your press doesn’t scrutinize and hold government accountable, and instead chooses to sleep with them.” The prince also criticized the lack of oversight of “incredibly powerful media companies masquerading as journalists”.
“If they supposedly control society, who the hell is watching them, when even the government is afraid to alienate them because position is power,” he continued in his testimony. “It’s incredibly worrying for the whole of the UK.”
He said of the wider media, “How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put an end to this madness?”
When asked in cross-examination who had “blood on their hands”, the prince replied: “Some editors and journalists responsible for much pain and dismay.”
The Prince told the High Court that being targeted by the Mirror Group as a “kid at school” was “incredibly invasive” and said his “circle of friends had begun to dwindle” because of newspaper articles about his life. In his testimony, he said the break-in had led to a “downward spiral”.
Prince Harry, who testified calmly and at times with his voice barely audible, was widely questioned in court over the 33 articles, including one about his alleged drug use at the Rattlebone Inn, a country pub in Wiltshire. The prince told the court that the News of World story was “untrue”.
Green read a passage from the Prince’s memoirs Reserve in which he refers to his father’s office which “went full of Neville Chamberlain” and collaborated with the News of the World newspaper so that the story was reported in a more sympathetic manner.
Prince Harry accepted that the Mirror story was a follow-up to the News of the World report. He told the court that the information came from “one person” in his father’s office trying to get favorable publicity for King Charles.
He said the article had a “huge impact” on his life as Eton, where he studied, had “a zero drugs policy and I was very afraid of being expelled”.
In his testimony, Prince Harry also attacked Piers Morgan, who was editor of the Daily Mirror when the alleged Mirror journalists hacked into the voicemail of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Morgan has always denied phone hacking.
The prince said: “The thought of Piers Morgan and his gang of journalists earworming my mother’s personal and sensitive messages (in the same way they do mine) and then her three months before her death in Paris makes me physically sick. .”
He added that the episode had left him determined to hold those responsible, including Morgan, “accountable for their vile and utterly unwarranted behavior”.
Prince Harry referred to “the general feeling of paranoia” to which he was “so accustomed to living, a feeling of not being able to trust anyone”.
“As a young man in my teens, I never suspected my phone was being hacked. I never dreamed that this was possible,” he told the court.
Green told him that many of the Mirror articles in question were based on reports already published by other newspapers or official sources.
In a Daily Mirror article published in September 2002 entitled: “No Eton trifles for Harry, 18” about the Prince’s birthday, Green suggested that the information came from an interview the Prince had conducted with the Press Association.
Prince Harry replied that the information was related to payments to private investigators.
Mirror Group denies that Prince Harry had his phone hacked or was the target of illegal information gathering. But it does accept that a private investigator was hired by a journalist from The People to illegally collect information about his behavior at Chinawhite nightclub in February 2004.
Mirror Group does not deny or admit that the 33 articles at the center of the lawsuit were the result of unlawful activity. It also claims Prince Harry’s lawsuit was overdue. The case continues.