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Prince Harry’s decision to appear in court for three days next month, giving evidence and being cross-examined in his phone hacking case against Mirror Group Newspapers, has the British royal family nervously bracing for a new round of disclosures by the aggrieved prince.
A friend of Prince William told The Daily Beast: “I think the family know he could say anything and no one is looking forward to it. Harry seems to be obsessed by the idea that everyone was in cahoots with the media, so presumably there will be lots more of that.”
William was the subject of some of Harry’s most intensely critical remarks in his memoir, Spare. In a recent submission, for a separate case against the Rupert Murdoch-owned publisher of the Sun, News Group Newspapers (NGN), Harry alleged that William received a “very large” amount of money as part of a “secret agreement” between the royals and NGN.
The Daily Beast understands that William settled with the paper for around £1m ($1.15m) and that while the exact terms of the deal were confidential, they were not kept secret from Harry, and that he could have participated in the deal and got a similar settlement.
A friend of Camilla’s, whom Harry accused in his book of sacrificing him on her “PR altar,” told The Daily Beast that while the king and queen were “deeply hurt” by Harry’s actions so far, and were likely to be further upset if he repeats previous allegations or makes new ones in court, they “absolutely accept he has the right to his day in court like any other private citizen.”
Asked if Camilla was unnerved by claims made in a skeleton argument submitted to the court this week that her and Charles’ former spin doctor, Mark Bolland, may have been the source of stories about Harry—including one that Harry had caught glandular fever after kissing girls—and that Bolland was a drinking pal of then-Mirror editor Piers Morgan (who has become one of the Sussexes’ most vituperative critics) and fed him stories, the friend said: “I’m sure it won’t be pleasant, but don’t forget, people have said all sorts of horrible things about her over the years and she hasn’t snapped yet. Anyone who knows her knows the idea she would have been encouraging Bolland to sell out Harry to the Mirror is just complete rubbish.”
Morgan “lies at the heart” of allegations of unlawful information-gathering, Harry’s lawyer David Sherborne told the court in a written submission Thursday. “I never hacked a phone, I wouldn’t even know how,” Morgan told BBC presenter Amol Rajan this week. “There’s no evidence I knew anything about any of this, I never told anybody to hack a phone.”
The issue with Bolland has arisen because Harry cites the “kissing disease” story in his skeleton argument, saying it is one of 148 articles published in the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People that must have come from illegal sources.
But the Mirror has responded that the source of the story could have been Bolland, who was hired by Charles principally to rehabilitate Camilla’s image.
Mark Stephens, a media lawyer with Howard Kennedy who has a keen interest in the intersection of royalty and the law, told The Daily Beast that he suspected the cross-examination of Harry would focus on his campaign against the media and try to suggest that this “has blinded him to non-hacking possibilities.”
However, the truth is that despite centuries of keeping calm and carrying on, it would be odd if the royals did not feel a tiny bit anxious at the stunning reality that, next month, Harry is scheduled to become the first senior member of the royal family to give evidence in open court since the then-Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was dragged into court in 1890 over allegations an acquaintance of his cheated in a game of cards.
The bombshell development has been buried, somewhat, by the tidal wave of royal news that has surrounded the coronation; however it hove into sharper view this week, as his long-awaited case against Mirror Group Newspapers kicked off and a timetable for the trial was published.
As well as showing that Harry is due to be on the stand for three long days of testifying and cross-examination in early June, the timetable shows that next week, Sussex cheerleader and biographer Omid Scobie is due to testify on Harry’s behalf.
Court papers suggest he will testify that when interning at the showbiz desk of MGN Sunday paper The People he, “was given a list of mobile telephone numbers and a verbal description of how to listen to voicemails, as if it were a routine newsgathering technique.”
Scobie will say that he saw Piers Morgan, being “told that the information had come from voicemails”, when he questioned a story about the singer Kylie Minogue.
And of course, another person who has reason to feel very anxious about what Harry might say from the witness box is Morgan, who has dedicated a large portion of his professional career in recent years to diatribes against Harry and Meghan. He has always denied hacking phones or ordering them to be hacked, but there are several anecdotes that suggest the opposite could be a fruitful line of enquiry for Harry’s lawyers.
“It is unprecedented for a royal to give evidence and be cross examined.”
— Mark Stephens
Morgan talked about journalists on his paper using voicemail interception in a collection of his diaries that he published, and former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman told the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking that Morgan had explained how to hack a phone at a lunch in 2002.
On Wednesday, Morgan told ITV News: “All I am going to say is I am not going to take lectures on privacy invasion from Prince Harry, somebody who has spent the last three years ruthlessly and cynically invading the royal family’s privacy for vast commercial gain. So I suggest he gets out of court and apologizes to his family for the disgraceful invasion of privacy that he’s been purporting.”
Morgan added: “I think Prince Harry should be apologizing for his disgraceful invasion of privacy of the royal family and others, by the way.”
In its opening statement this week, MGN admitted using some illegal news-gathering techniques but denied phone hacking. Stephens said this was a “bizarre” opening move and meant MGN were starting “a game down.”
He added: “It is unprecedented for a royal to give evidence and be cross-examined. The last time a royal was in court was Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales in the baccarat scandal case where the prince was a witness to cheating and gave evidence and was not meaningfully challenged.”
He added that the case against MGN is “hugely important” because Harry is “seeking an explanation as well and it’s obviously very important to him. He’s not in it for the money.”
And that is exactly why next month’s testimony from a clearly still very angry Harry could be so dangerous for his estranged family.