Prince Harry on Tuesday became the first UK royal in more than a century to give evidence in court — and accused some British newspapers of having blood on their hands.
In a break with protocol, the fifth-in-line to the throne also condemned the British government and press for failing to hold one another to account. UK royals usually follow the same practice as the monarch, who as Britain’s head of state is supposed to be above politics.
The 38-year-old has a turbulent relationship with the press, holding newspapers and paparazzi responsible for the death of his mother Princess Diana.
What did Harry tell the court?
Harry, who is suing a British tabloid publisher for illegal information-gathering, told London’s High Court he had suffered “press invasion most of my life up until this day.”
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, told the court he had been caricaturized by the press in a negative light and that it had damaged his mental health.
“How much more blood will stain their typing fingers before someone can put a stop to this madness,” he said in a witness statement.
“You’re then either the ‘playboy prince’, the ‘failure’, the ‘dropout’ or, in my case, the ‘thicko’, the ‘cheat’, the ‘underage drinker’, the ‘irresponsible drug taker’, the list goes on.”
“As a teenager and in my early 20s, I ended up feeling as though I was playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes that they wanted to pin on me… It was a downward spiral,” he said, saying the reporting had been “utterly vile.”
The prince has accused the government of being “scared” to hold the press accountable and launched a tirade against both of them in his testimony.
“On a national level, at the moment, our country is judged globally by the state of our press and our government, both of which I believe are at rock bottom,” his statement said.
“Democracy fails when your press fails to scrutinize and hold the government accountable, and instead choose to get into bed with them so they can ensure the status quo.”
He is the first senior British royal to give evidence for 130 years, with the last being Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Bertie, who became King Edward VII. He appeared in two cases: a dispute over card cheating and a divorce hearing.
What Is The Case About?
Harry and more than 100 others are suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), which publishes the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, and Sunday People, over alleged widespread wrongdoing between 1991 and 2011.
Harry’s is one of four test cases, with his specific allegations being the focus of the first three days of this week.
Lawyers for the claimants are seeking to prove that unlawful information gathering was conducted with the knowledge and approval of senior editors and executives.
MGN did apologize at the start of the trial after admitting staff had unlawfully sought information about Harry on one occasion. It has previously admitted its titles were guilty of phone hacking and has settled more than 600 claims.
However, MGN’s lawyer claims there is no evidence that Harry was ever a victim of phone hacking, and it rejected the accusation of further unlawful actions.
The media company says some of the personal information came from senior royal aides, including from one of his father’s former top officials.
In his memoir “Spare” and a Netflix documentary series, the prince accuses his family and their aides of colluding with newspapers at his expense to enhance their reputations.
Harry did not appear on Monday, having only left the United States, where he now lives with his American wife Meghan, the previous evening. Judge Timothy Fancourt said he was surprised at the absence.
He blames paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother and claims that harassment and intrusion — including racist coverage — led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee royal life in the UK in 2020.