UK: 'I hid in car boot to escape paparazzi', says Prince Harry as hearing begins in phone hacking case

Harry accuses tabloid newspapers of gaining information through unlawful means

Britain Prince Harry Prince Harry arrives at the High Court in London to testify against a tabloid publisher he accuses of phone hacking and other unlawful snooping | AP

Prince Harry appeared as a witness in High Court on Tuesday to give evidence in a phone hacking case against Mirror Group Newspapers for unlawful information gathering including phone hacking. 

Prince Harry on Tuesday became the first senior British royal to give evidence in a high court trial in over 100 years. The Duke of Sussex alleged "utterly vile" unlawful information gathering, including by phone hacking, by journalists working for the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

Harry accused the tabloid newspapers of inciting hatred against him as a young royal and casting him as a 'thicko, cheat, underage drinker, and irresponsible drug taker' -- referring to some of the media labels he felt associated with over the years.

"I genuinely feel that in every relationship that I've ever had be that with friends, girlfriends, with family or with the army, there's always been a third party involved, namely the tabloid press," reads his witness statement released as Harry gave oral evidence in court.

"As a teenager and in my early twenties, 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 mainly because I thought that, if they are printing this rubbish about me and people were believing it, I may as well 'do the crime', so to speak,” he said.

"It was a downward spiral, whereby the tabloids would constantly try and coax me, a 'damaged' young man, into doing something stupid that would make a good story and sell lots of newspapers. Looking back on it now, such behaviour on their part is utterly vile," he added.

The royal said he decided to go to the court to hold people to account for what they have done and that he was "determined to get to the bottom of it once and for all.”

Harry, who stepped back as a working royal and now lives in the US with his wife Meghan Markle and two children Archie and Lilibet, has said that the deceptive methods used by MGN newspapers impacted his personal life.

He alleges that the 'Daily Mirror', Sunday Mirror', and 'Sunday People' were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called blagging or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators, between 1996 and 2010 to get detailed information about his private affairs.

MGN disputes the allegations and also argued that some of the claimants who are part of the representative legal action have brought their case too late. Their lawyers are expected to cross-examine Prince Harry in the witness box this week.

Meanwhile, the royal's lawyer on Monday told the hearing as it opened that 'Mirror' journalists listened to voicemail messages from Princess Diana Harry's late mother. In his statement, Harry said, “The thought of Piers Morgan and his band of journalists earwigging into my mother’s private and sensitive messages (in the same way as they have me) and then having given her a ‘nightmare time’ three months prior to her death in Paris, makes me feel physically sick and even more determined to hold those responsible, including Mr Morgan, accountable for their vile and entirely unjustified behaviour,” The Guardian reported quoting the statement.  

He alleged he and his wife have been subjected to a barrage of personal attacks and intimidation from Piers Morgan, who was the editor of the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, The Guardian reported.

Harry said in his statement that he had to hide in the boot of a car to escape from the paparazzi, “Everywhere I went, the paparazzi seemed to turn up even though efforts were always being made to conceal where I was going. I had to walk out, hold my head high and just try to push past and get in the car. On rare occasions, I even hid in the boot.” 

"Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds and there was no protection from this unlawful information gathering," David Sherborne told the court, alleging that the ups and downs of Harry's relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy were among those gained via unlawful means.

The Prince alleges around 140 articles published between 1996 and 2010 contained information gathered using unlawful methods and, according to court reports, 33 of these have been selected to be considered at the trial.

Justice Timothy Fancourt, who is presiding over the trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, had expressed surprise that Harry was not in court at the start of the trial but was told that he had flown in from Los Angeles only on Sunday night as it was daughter Princess Lilibet's second birthday on June 4.

The last time a senior royal took to the witness stand in an English High Court trial was in 1891 when the then Prince of Wales was called to give evidence in a gambling case dubbed the Royal Baccarat Scandal.

At the time, the future King Edward VII was brought to court to give testimony over a tricky case of cheating in a game of cards that the royal happened to be present at. 

(With PTI inputs.)

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