LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry entered a courtroom witness box Tuesday, swearing to tell the truth in testimony against a tabloid publisher he accuses of phone hacking and other unlawful snooping.
Harry held a Bible in one hand as he was sworn in at the High Court in London, where he is suing the publisher of the Daily Mirror. Earlier, he’d arrived at court in a black SUV and entered a modern wing past dozens of photographers and TV cameras.
Harry accuses the publisher of the Mirror of using unlawful techniques on an “industrial scale” to get scoops. He faces hours of cross-examination by a lawyer for the defendant, Mirror Group Newspapers, which is contesting the claims.
Sitting in the witness box and dressed in a dark suit and tie, Harry told Mirror Group attorney Andrew Green that he had “experienced hostility from the press since I was born.” The prince accused the tabloids of playing “a destructive role in my growing-up.”
The 38-year-old son of King Charles III is the first senior British royal since the 19th century to face questioning in a court. An ancestor, the future King Edward VII, appeared as a witness in a trial over a gambling scandal in 1891.
Harry has made a mission of holding the UK press to account for what he sees as its hounding of him and his family.
Setting out the prince’s case in court Monday, his lawyer, David Sherborne, said that from Harry’s childhood, British newspapers used hacking and subterfuge to mine snippets of information that could be turned into front-page scoops.
He said stories about Harry were big sellers for the newspapers, and some 2,500 articles had covered all facets of his life during the time period of the case — 1996 to 2011 — from injuries at school to experimenting with marijuana and cocaine to ups and downs with girlfriends.
“Nothing was sacrosanct or out of bounds” for the tabloids, the lawyer said.
In a written witness statement published Tuesday, Harry said he felt “as though the tabloid press thought that they owned me absolutely.”
“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,” he said.
Hacking — the practice of guessing or using default security codes to listen to celebrities’ cellphone voice messages — was widespread at British tabloids in the early years of this century. It became an existential crisis for the industry after the revelation in 2011 that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a slain 13-year-old girl. Owner Rupert Murdoch shut down the paper and several of his executives faced criminal trials.
Mirror Group has paid more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims, and printed an apology to phone hacking victims in 2015.
But the newspaper denies or has not admitted any of Harry’s claims, which relate to 33 published articles.
Defense lawyer Green said Monday there was “simply no evidence capable of supporting the finding that the Duke of Sussex was hacked, let alone on a habitual basis.”
Green said he plans to question Harry for a day and a half.
Harry had been expected in court Monday for the opening of the hacking case, the first of his several lawsuits against the media to go to a full trial.
He was absent because he’d taken a flight Sunday from Los Angeles after the birthday of his 2-year-old daughter Lilibet, Sherborne said — to the evident chagrin of the judge, Timothy Fancourt.
“I’m a little surprised,” said Fancourt, noting he had directed Harry to be prepared to testify.
Harry’s fury at the UK press — and sometimes at his own royal relatives for what he sees as their collusion with the media — runs through his memoir, “Spare,” and interviews conducted by Oprah Winfrey and others.
He has blamed paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and said harassment and intrusion by the UK press, including allegedly racist articles, led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee to the US in 2020 and leave royal life behind.
While Harry’s memoir and other recent media ventures have been an effort to reclaim his life’s narrative, which has largely been shaped by the media, he has no such control during cross-examination in a courtroom full of reporters taking down every word.