The first senior British Royal to ever enter the witness box in the High Court will allege Piers Morgan oversaw a conspiracy of newsroom criminality at the Daily Mirror, reveals Dan Evans
☐ PRINCE Harry will take aim at Piers Morgan in person from the witness box, in doing so making legal history in a landmark civil trial
☐ PIERS MORGAN is accused of overseeing and approving industrial-scale criminal newsgathering when he edited the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004
☐ HE IS also said to be involved in a Board-level cover-up of newsroom crimes from police and shareholders, which the publisher denies
☐ HARRY will claim Morgan’s Mirror targeted him with illegal private investigators and phone hacking from the age of just 12, while:
☐ MORGAN has missed a deadline to defend himself with a sworn statement and looks unlikely to enter the witness box himself, while;
☐FIVE CLAIMANTS go to legal battle on behalf of potentially thousands more to resist publisher’s bid to time-limit lawsuits on a “technicality”
The Duke of Sussex is set to appear before Judge Mr Timothy Fancourt to give his evidence – and face cross-examination by lawyers for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) – as one of five test cases alleging extensive illegal snooping by its three national tabloids between 1996 and 2011.
It covers Morgan’s often controversial editorship of the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004 – and his period as de facto ‘editor-in-chief’ of the Sunday Mirror from April 2001 – until his high-profile sacking for being “hoaxed” into publishing fake photos of British troops supposedly abusing Iraqi prisoners of war.
Justice Fancourt, at a preliminary hearing on 8 March, put the Duke’s case in a small group among around 120 current Claimants who would “not settle without having come to court and had their trial and said what they want to,” having seen MGN vacate five previous trial dates by paying out large settlements on the proverbial steps of the court.
Barrister David Sherborne also confirmed that the arrangement for video-link evidence of witnesses in the seven-week trial starting 9 May “certainly doesn’t involve any of the individual claimants,” seemingly assuring a live public appearance from the Duke.
Full details of Harry’s personal case against MGN – a subsidiary of Reach plc and publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – have yet to enter public record, but they are understood to claim he was targeted from the age of 12 if not earlier.
The case centres on 148 articles published between 1996 and 2010 said to be unlawfully sourced through the use of so-called newsroom ‘dark arts’, including phone tapping, phone hacking and data ‘blagging’, or the obtaining of private information by deception.
It is also understood the Duke will say MGN journalists unlawfully intercepted voicemails he shared with, among others, his father Prince – now King – Charles, late mother Princess Diana, brother Prince William, ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy, and friend Caroline Flack, whose suicide in 2020 was partly attributed to her struggles with tabloid Press intrusion.
The Duke will further rely on a ‘generic’ case available to all the Claimants that make detailed allegations of wrongdoing against MGN and its Legal Department and former Board of Directors, whom it’s alleged concealed their knowledge of industrial-scale use of unlawful private investigators from police and shareholders, claims the publisher in its defence denies.
Connection to the Daniel Morgan Murder
Byline Times has learnt that MGN intends to call former Chief Executive Officer Sly Bailey as well as former senior figures from its legal department to give evidence to rebuff claims of a corporate cover-up.
It places Prince Harry in the position of making accusations of serious criminal wrongdoing – including alleged involvement in voicemail hacking and other illegal private investigation – involving, in Mr Morgan, someone who is also a strident public critic.
Morgan, it is understood, had not by an agreed deadline last week, entered any statements of his own to rebut the detailed accusations he will hear against him, although MGN may simply deny or “not admit” their truth, instead leaving it up to the Claimants to prove – and Justice Fancourt to make up his own mind about – the case as the Duke’s lawyer pleads it.
According to the latest court documents, Morgan is accused of authorising the “systemic and widespread” use of illegal private investigators by MGN, including the services of Southern Investigations, whose director Daniel Morgan was murdered in a car park in 1987 in Britain’s most-investigated unsolved killing, and of knowing about phone hacking in relation to the TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson contrary to his denials of wrongdoing to the Leveson Inquiry.
On the matter of Southern Investigations, Morgan’s biggest story-getters of the era – Features Editor Mark Thomas and Investigations Editor Gary Jones – were secretly recorded in 1999 by police commissioning multiple unlawful inquiries for illegal information.
Mr Jones continues to work today for MGN’s parent company Reach Plc as the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily and Sunday Express.
Prince Harry joins former Coronation Street actors Michael Le Vell and Nikki Sanderson, Fiona Wightman – the wife of British comedian Paul Whitehouse – and actor and model Paul Sculfor, among those selected for a trial MGN has said it is determined to have in order to test the law of limitation in relation to some current and future claims.
It says that claimants should be time-barred from suing it for historical wrongdoing because six years – the time limit prescribed in law – have passed since MGN made belated and limited admissions of phone hacking, only at the Sunday Mirror, in a legal landmark trial in 2015.
The coverage of that trial, MGN argues, in fact set a six-year clock ticking which now, having expired, should debar from taking civil action potentially thousands of further alleged victims of illegal newsgathering between 1991 and 2011.
The Claimants, represented by privacy barrister David Sherborne, will argue that MGN’s strident televised denials to the Leveson Inquiry into Press ethics in 2011 and 2012 of newsroom wrongdoing – including those made under oath by Mr Morgan – had been believed by a wide audience of people.
Also, they say the company concealed and continues to conceal the full extent of its wrongdoing, while coverage of subsequent civil proceedings has been niche owing to a general tendency of the wider media not to report heavily on alleged misbehaviour within its own industry.
“MGN is essentially trying to get off paying their victims compensation on a technicality,” said a legal source.
“It is a big gamble to take, considering the damaging claims that will be made about the company’s conduct, but one MGN clearly thinks is worth it.”
A Royal First
Prince Harry’s anticipated appearance in person will make him the first member of Britain’s first family to enter the witness box in a civil lawsuit since the High Court was established in 1873, though others have had involvement in the British court system.
He is pursuing a similar parallel hacking claim against Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, while his wife Meghan Markle took on Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, and won a privacy claim over the publication of a letter to her dad.
His late grandmother Queen Elizabeth II memorably intervened in 2002 to end the criminal trial of Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell – and with it his potential to cause Royal embarrassment.
Last year Prince Andrew settled his sexual misconduct case with Virginia Roberts Giuffre for a reported £12m rather than enter a courtroom in the United States.
However, given the range and seriousness of his claims, the Duke of Sussex is on the front foot going into this landmark civil lawsuit likely to be contested so strongly that it will see the Court of Appeal, whatever its initial outcome.
Each of the five test Claimants – selected because their cases between them cover the most common ground for judicial findings of fact about dozens of allegedly unlawful private eyes and the actions and knowledge of key MGN personnel – is seeking damages and legal costs.
A total of seven former or serving national newspaper editors, including Morgan’s protégé Richard Wallace, who in 2004 succeeded him at the Daily Mirror, and who is now Head of TV at News UK Broadcasting, Morgan’s current employer, are named in court papers.
Last year Wallace handed Morgan – dubbed by some “Teflon Piers” for his habit of surviving scandals – a £50m three-year deal to front Rupert Murdoch’s struggling Talk TV channel and write columns for The Sun, probably making him the world’s best-paid journalist, and offering a platform used to regularly criticise the Duke and Duchess.
A legal source said: “Mr Morgan is facing a lot of serious claims made by a member of the Royal family in a very big civil trial, with legally-binding outcomes, which will go to the heart of his evidence to a previous public inquiry, which was also legally binding.
“He is not usually known for allowing allegations of the nature the Duke and other Claimants are making about him to go unchecked, and make no mistake, it appears both barrels are pointing at Mr Morgan in this legal action.
“It remains to be seen whether he wishes to be a witness for the Defence, but trial preparation is well underway and deadlines for giving witness statements have now passed, so early indications are that we won’t hear from Mr Morgan – from inside the courtroom at least.”
The Trial in the Mirror Newspapers Hacking Litigation (MNHL) is scheduled to start on May 9 and will last approximately seven weeks. The case continues.
Transparency statement: the author of this article was once trained to hack phones by Mirror Group Newspapers and has given evidence in support of the Claimants in the MNHL
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