Prince Harry has said “vile” British tabloids had a “devastating impact” on his mental health by portraying him as an irresponsible “thicko” prone to underage drinking and drug taking.
The prince told the high court that the “constant intrusion by tabloid press” eventually forced him to move his family to California while warning that Rishi Sunak’s government was at “rock bottom” and avoids scrutiny by getting “in bed” with friendly newspapers.
On Tuesday morning, the prince became the first member of the royal family to be cross-examined in court since 1891. Harry claims that journalists working for the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People hacked his voicemails and illegally used private investigators to obtain stories about his private life.
He told the court he brought the case because he wanted to hold “incredibly powerful” British newspapers to account because they “masquerade as journalists” but had “hijacked journalistic privileges for their own personal gain and agenda”.
“As a child growing up, in teenage years, I was under press invasion for most of my life, up until this day,” he said. He said some editors and journalists have “blood on their hands” and through their work they have caused pain, upset and “inadvertently” death.
In a lengthy written statement, Harry alleged:
Piers Morgan, the former Daily Mirror editor, has subjected Harry and his family to “vile personal attacks” as a result of his decision to bring the case. Harry said he was left “physically sick” by the idea of Morgan listening to private messages left by his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
His voicemails were hacked by journalists while he was a schoolboy at Eton, and as a young man he had to hide in the boot of a car to avoid the paparazzi.
His relationship with his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy was undermined by “constant surveillance” by the tabloids that left them feeling “hunted by the media”.
He was deeply affected as a teenager by tabloid rumours that his real father was the army officer James Hewitt, saying such stories were “hurtful, mean and cruel”.
Tabloid coverage shaped how the public and army colleagues viewed him. “I was facing judgments and opinions based on what had been reported about me, true or not. I expected people to be thinking: ‘He’s obviously going to fail this test, because he’s a thicko,’” he said.
The prince flew from his home in California to attend the hearing and was greeted by dozens of photographers and camera crews from around the world as he arrived at court in central London. He was sworn in on the Bible to give evidence under oath, although the court first had to discuss how to refer to the royal family member. Eventually it was decided that on first mention he would be addressed as “your royal highness” before reverting to his favoured name of Prince Harry.
Andrew Green KC, the Mirror’s barrister, said Harry was operating in the “realm of total speculation” and could not back up his allegations that stories in the Mirror came from phone hacking or other illegal activity.
The barrister insisted that, in reality, many of the Mirror’s stories had come from an official spokesperson or had been lifted from other newspapers: “Everyone here has enormous sympathy with the level of press intrusion you have experienced in your life, but it doesn’t follow that unlawful activity was involved.”
But Harry emphasised the paranoia he felt as a result of articles in the Mirror’s tabloids, which revealed details about his relationships with ex-girlfriends and tracked him down to remote corners of the world. He pointed to a “highly suspicious” number of invoices to private investigators relating to stories about him, as well as mysterious behaviour on his mobile phone, as evidence of illegal behaviour by Mirror Group Newspapers.
The prince also suggested the difficulties between him and his brother, Prince William, were exacerbated by tabloid coverage. He said one article about a disagreement between the two, featuring Harry calling a former royal butler a “two-faced shit”, was the sort of story that “seeds distrust between brothers”.
Harry said the UK tabloids had no respect for individuals and would do anything to get a story. He said: “You become a victim of their system. They claim to hold public figures to account but refuse to hold themselves accountable. If they’re supposedly policing society, who on earth is policing them, when even the government is scared of alienating them because position is power? It is incredibly worrying for the entire UK.”
He gave his interpretation of how British newspapers created personas for all members of the royal family. “You start off as a blank canvas while they work out what kind of person you are and what kind of problems and temptations you might have … You’re then either the ‘playboy prince’, the ‘failure’, the ‘dropout’ or, in my case, the ‘thicko’, the ‘cheat’, the ‘underage drinker’, the ‘irresponsible drug taker’, the list goes on,” he said.
The prince said every relationship came under immense pressure, with private details of his conversations and secret meetings with Davy and Caroline Flack mysteriously appearing in newspapers, with photographers seemingly always aware of his movements. “I always felt as if the tabloids wanted me to be single, as I was much more interesting to them and sold more newspapers.”
Harry also alleged Morgan had recently targeted him and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, with “a barrage of horrific personal attacks and intimidation” that he said was “presumably in retaliation” for bringing the legal claim against the Mirror.
He said Morgan’s criticism was motivated by self-preservation “in the hope that I will back down before being able to hold him properly accountable for his unlawful activity towards both me and my mother during his editorship”.
The case continues, with Harry due to give further evidence for much of Wednesday.