Prince Harry has decided to launch an all-out war against the British tabloid press—and Piers Morgan could become one of its most high-profile casualties.
It emerged on Friday that Harry launched legal proceedings against the owners of the Sun and the Mirror over the alleged hacking of his phone, just days before his wife Meghan Markle announced her legal action against Associated Newspapers and the Mail on Sunday over publication of private correspondence addressed to her father.
As first reported by Byline Investigates, the lawsuits were filed on September 27 at London’s High Court, via Harry’s lawyers Clinton LLP.
An official at Buckingham Palace told The Daily Beast: “I can confirm that claims have been filed on behalf of the Duke of Sussex at the High Court regarding the illegal interception of voicemail messages. Given the particulars of the claims are not yet public, I can offer no further comment at this time.”
A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers (NGN)—the publishers of the Sun and the now-defunct News of The World—said: “We confirm that a claim has been issued by the Duke of Sussex.”
The BBC reported that Harry’s “allegations against NGN predate 2010, but it is not yet clear when his claims against the Mirror date from.” The phone hacking may even date as far back to the early 2000s, when Harry was a teenager.
Byline Investigates reported, “In addition to Murdoch’s The Sun and defunct News of the World, the Duke is also suing the publishers of The Mirror titles over unlawful newsgathering activities that stretch back to the editorship of controversial former editor-turned-celebrity Piers Morgan.”
Morgan, currently an anchor on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, did not immediately return the Daily Beast’s request for comment.
He denied phone hacking at the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of newsgathering in the British press, which led to criminal convictions.
However, Morgan, who bitterly claims Markle “ghosted” him after striking up an initial friendship, has become a relentless critic of Prince Harry and Meghan on the ITV breakfast show and via his Daily Mail column; his latest was headlined “Stop playing the victim, Harry—you and Meghan brought the negative press on yourselves, and just when you turn things around, you ruin it all.”
Morgan has called Markle “a self-obsessed professional actress who has landed the role of her life and is determined to milk it for all she’s worth.”
A legal insider told Byline Investigates: “Piers Morgan has been critical of Harry and Meghan’s recourse to law this week against the Mail on Sunday. However, most of the Mirror hacking and blagging of Harry and his loved ones, allegedly happened under his watch.” (‘Blagging,’ in this context, means posing as someone to obtain personal information about them without their consent.)
One Mirror source told The Daily Beast: “Piers is at the crux of this. Harry is incensed over his constant columns on Mail Online and his TV attacks on GMB. Piers does not hold back in his contempt for them.”
On Twitter on Friday, Morgan first accused the actor Hugh Grant of spreading “disgusting lies” when Grant shared the Byline Investigates story, foregrounding the negative quote about Morgan. Later, Morgan posted a picture of himself with a glass of wine and cigar and the hashtag, “Happy Smile Day.”
A senior employee at one of the named outlets, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so, told The Daily Beast that they did not believe the allegations related to specific allegations of phone hacking, or phone hacking that had taken place in recent years, but rather to an inference of phone hacking based on the publication of private information.
The source said they did not have detailed knowledge of the complaint lodged by Harry and was basing their speculation on previous legal actions by other claimants.
The source said: “The papers were lodged a week ago. Since 2011 there have been a steady stream of civil cases, and usually they don’t actually have direct evidence of phone hacking, they just say, ‘Well, in 2005 you published this story that you couldn’t possibly have known about unless you had hacked my phone.’
“I suspect this is similar. Now we’re being traduced as phone hackers but in the vast majority of cases someone had actually told us the story and we hadn’t hacked anyone’s phone. Usually the lawyers just settle anyway, because it’s easier, but for some reason Harry has obviously decided he wants to make a big public statement out of it.
“The general view is that it’s just some vendetta he has got. But what is he so cross about? What does it pertain to? It’s like he has gone mad. I mean, if you actually read the papers we do the most fawning coverage of Meghan and Harry. It’s infuriating.
“Harry is making himself newsworthy. He seems to have lost the plot with the press. This is a very aggressive and odd move and is obviously being driven by the way the press has covered Meghan. This is payback”
“You definitely get the impression he is doing this without consulting anyone, just like he did with the statement this week and the action against the Mail on Sunday. He is just launching his own actions and he is going to drag the whole royal family down with him. “
A former royal correspondent told the Daily Beast: “Harry is making himself newsworthy. He seems to have lost the plot with the press. This is a very aggressive and odd move and is obviously being driven by the way the press has covered Meghan. This is payback.”
Prince Harry’s legal actions could not only lead to him taking the stand, but also a return to the British courts of the main players of the original British phone hacking scandal, including Morgan and Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK, the renamed News International, which publishes Murdoch’s British newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, and the now-deceased News of the World.
Brooks is a former editor of The Sun and the News of the World, and resigned as CEO of News International in 2011 after the Leveson Inquiry, before being re-installed as CEO of News UK in 2015.
Markle’s legal action against The Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers, announced earlier this week, is over the “misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.”
The case is being funded by the Duke and Duchess privately, and any money resulting from the case will reportedly be given to an anti-bullying charity.
In a statement earlier this week, The Mail on Sunday said it stood by its story “and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the Duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”
“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person”
In a statement notable for its raw emotion, Prince Harry wrote that his wife has become “one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press”—which he said has waged a “ruthless campaign” against her. “The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question,” Harry wrote. “There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behavior, because it destroys people and destroys lives.”
Harry wrote that he feared “history repeating itself,” referring to how his late mother, Princess Diana, was treated by the press. “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” he wrote. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
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