LONDON (AP) — The publisher of British tabloid the Daily Mirror acknowledged and apologized Wednesday for unlawfully gathering information about Prince Harry, saying at the outset of a trial over one of his phone hacking lawsuits that the prince was due “appropriate compensation.”
The admission of snooping for a 2004 article headlined “Sex on the beach with Harry” may have marked a tiny victory for the Duke of Sussex, but the story in question was not one of the nearly 150 that Harry claimed resulted from unlawful news gathering between 1995 and 2011.
The trial that opened in London is Harry’s biggest test yet in his legal battle against the British press. He and three other celebrities, including two soap opera actors, are suing the former publisher of the Daily Mirror for alleged misuse of private information.
Harry was not present in court as his attorney, David Sherborne, began his opening statement, saying that unlawful acts were “widespread and habitual” and done on “an industrial scale” by reporters and editors at the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.
“It was a flood of illegality,” Sherborne said. “But worse, this flood was being approved by senior executives, managing editors and members of the board.”
Invoices and phone records — some so old they came from obsolete Palm Pilots — showed how the news, entertainment, sports, and photo departments relied on investigators plying unscrupulous tactics.
Sherborne said former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan was aware of the hacking and even participated. Morgan has publicly denied involvement in phone hacking.
The activities in question stretch back more than two decades, when journalists and private eyes intercepted voicemails for scoops on members of the royal family, politicians, athletes, celebrities and even crime victims. The scheme advanced from a low-tech hack of punching in default passwords in early days of voicemail to tapping phones, bugging homes and gaining access to medical records.
A scandal erupted when the hacking was revealed.
Publisher Mirror Group Newspapers continued to deny it hacked phones to intercept voicemail messages, and said that Harry and the three others brought their claims beyond a time limit.
But in court papers outlining its defense, the publisher acknowledged “some evidence of the instruction of third parties to engage in other types of UIG (unlawful information gathering)." It said the activity “warrants compensation” but didn’t spell out what form that might take.
“MGN unreservedly apologizes for all such instances of UIG, and assures the claimants that such conduct will never be repeated,” the court papers said.
The company said its apology was not a tactical move to reduce damages but was done “because such conduct should never have occurred.”
The case, the first of the duke’s three phone hacking lawsuits to go to trial, threatens to do something he said his family long feared: put a royal on the witness stand to discuss embarrassing revelations.
Harry is expected to testify in person in June, his lawyer has said. It won’t be his first time in the High Court, following his surprise appearance last month to observe most of a four-day hearing in one of his other lawsuits.
The prince has waged a war of words against British newspapers in legal claims and in his best-selling memoir “Spare,” vowing to make his life’s mission reforming the media that he blames for the death of his mother, Princess Diana. She died in a car wreck in Paris in 1997 while trying to evade paparazzi.
Harry breezed through London for Saturday’s coronation of his father, King Charles III, before leaving immediately after the ceremony to fly back to California for his son’s birthday.