The High Court has this morning awarded Prince Harry £140,600 in damages after ruling that he was the victim of mobile phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). Mr Justice Fancourt said that the Duke of Sussex’s personal phone was targeted to a ‘modest extent’ by the Mirror papers between 2003 and 2009. However there was ‘extensive’ use of the practice more widely from 2006 to 2011 and ‘even to some extent’ during the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. The court also ruled that Piers Morgan, when he was editor of the Daily Mirror, knew about phone hacking, based on evidence given by Omid Scobie.
The Duke of Sussex had claimed journalists at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People publisher were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called ‘blagging’ or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators for unlawful activities. Of the 33 sample articles examined in this case, 15 were ruled to be ‘the product of phone hacking … or the product of other unlawful information gathering.’ Each side chose half of the aforementioned articles that they wanted the judge to consider. It is therefore a significant victory for Prince Harry’s team to have won on almost half of the pile.
The judgment also says that hacking was widespread at MGN and known about by several prominent executives including ex-Mirror CEO Sly Bailey who ‘turned a blind eye’. This was the focus of the statement read out after the summary by Prince Harry’s defence lawyer David Sherborne. He argued that the case was not just about hacking in the noughties but rather ‘systemic and appalling behaviour followed by cover ups.’ Ominously for the Mirror group, that could mean further such cases in future with the associated costs and embarrassment for other executives involved at that time. It also raises questions for the next government: Keir Starmer has recently mulled the idea of tighter press regulation in the event that he takes the keys to No. 10 next year. Today’s ruling might just have tipped the scales a little further.