Prince Harry says his mission against the media continues – what does he hope to achieve?

2 weeks ago 22

Prince Harry smiling and waving outside London's High Court.Image source, Reuters

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Will the prince continue to fight tabloid newspapers now he's made a settlement with the Mirror group?

By Tom Symonds

Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

Evidence that the Duke of Sussex had been the victim of phone hacking first emerged 11 years ago during the trial of media executives at the now defunct News of the World.

Prince Harry was put off from taking legal action in the civil courts by a palace culture which held that the royals don't sue.

But that changed when his friends Elton John and David Furnish introduced him to David Sherborne, the slim-suited barrister who has led phone hacking cases for much of the last decade.

Now, despite some in the newspaper industry playing down their significance, he has achieved two big wins in his battle against what has become known in court as 'unlawful information gathering'.

Most phone hacking victims reach a settlement with the newspapers, finalised with brief statements and few details.

Prince Harry tried another strategy. He turned down offers to settle, turned up at court, and gave evidence in person.

He was rewarded with a judgement last year which not only backed his claims about 15 newspaper articles but set out in detail what Mirror Group Newspapers knew about unlawful practices at its titles.

That was gold-dust for his campaign. It provided solid proof for his claims that he and others were unfairly victimised by red-top reporters and investigators desperate for celebrity scoops.

It made today's settlement with MGN much more likely.

Incidentally, the damages he's been awarded are not huge. In 2008 the Professional Footballers Association chief Gordon Taylor was given a sum reportedly approaching £1m. Prince Harry's payout is around £300,000, for the repeated hacking of a senior royal, potentially a major security risk.

Image source, Reuters

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Barrister David Sherborne has represented many high-profile clients

The former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie suggested Prince Harry had accepted a "much smaller deal than he could have done if he wanted a fight".

Mr MacKenzie went on to talk about the prince's popularity in the UK, saying the settlement "indicates that even he understands that the nation is not behind him, even though the allegations may be serious."

In fact, according to the Prince's barrister, he made the offer, not MGN, which, in accepting it, avoided much larger legal bills.

Though the Prince has been slow to flesh out his comments in statements about his anti-media campaign, it does seem likely he is not in it for the money.

He has repeated many times that he is pursuing "positive change" in the media culture, and that he will "see it through to the end."

A successful end for him would mean defeating Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, and News Group Newspapers, now News UK, which publishes the Sun. Those cases are currently crawling through the courts.

There will be protracted legal arguments during 2024. Key to Prince Harry's success will be getting Associated in particular, to disclose evidence it has about payments to private investigators who claimants allege carried out phone hacking and blagging of personal information for the Mail titles.

What might change as a result of this legal battle?

In many ways Prince Harry is fighting to put right historical wrong-doing.

The phone hacking era began in the 90s when journalists realised that by dialling the friend of a celebrity and punching in a default pin-code they could hear the voicemail messages the star had left.

It ended in the 2010s as we replaced "brick" mobile phones with smartphones and moved to encrypted messaging apps for many conversations.

Around that time the police investigations of journalists and investigators made clear that methods relied on to get celeb scoops were actually criminal.

And then celebs started giving away their own secrets on social media. Much easier for the tabloids to digest without the unpleasant legal after-taste.

So perhaps the problem has solved itself.

There is one potential development which could ignite the campaign the prince is fighting.

He has called several times for the police to reopen their investigations into press malpractice and the civil case against Mirror Group has provided new potential evidence.

After convicting senior News International journalists in 2014 a subsequent investigation of the Mirror newspapers was shut down. It's likely the Metropolitan Police has no stomach to get involved again, and currently Scotland Yard isn't commenting.

One thing is clear. Prince Harry's campaign has made him more enemies in the press. So far that has not deterred him.

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