As his solo action against the publisher of the Daily Mirror over alleged illegal information collecting got underway, a judge voiced his “surprise” over the Duke of Sussex’s absence from the High Court.
He was supposed to show up in court on Monday, but his attorneys informed the judge that he would not come until Tuesday, when he would be subject to MGN’s lawyer’s cross-examination.
Harry had traveled to the UK from Los Angeles in the US on Saturday night because he was celebrating his daughter Lilibet’s second birthday on Sunday, according to David Sherborne, who is the duke’s attorney and is also defending the other claims, as the hearing got underway on Monday.
The duke’s decision to skip Monday’s court date “a little surprised” Mr. Justice Fancourt, the judge overseeing the case.
The judge testified that he instructed witnesses to be accessible the day before their testimony was scheduled to be heard in case the opening statements from the defense teams were rushed.
Harry, 38, is suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for damages, alleging that journalists at its publications—which also include the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People—were connected to practices like phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or obtaining information by deception, and the use of private investigators for illegal purposes.
In a trial that started last month and is expected to last six to seven weeks, his claim is being considered alongside three other “representative” claims.
MGN’s Andrew Green KC expressed his disappointment that the duke would not be present before Tuesday and expressed his desire to have at least a day and a half to cross-examine him. He was “deeply troubled” by this development since it might result in “wasted time” on Monday afternoon.
33 of the 140 articles that Harry claims were published between 1996 and 2010 and contained material obtained illegally will be taken into account during the trial.
MGN is disputing the charges and has either refuted or refused to acknowledge each one.
The publisher contends that some of the claimants filed their lawsuits too late.
Just over a month after he witnessed his father the King’s coronation, he will appear in court.
The Princess Royal admitted guilt to a charge under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2002 when her pet bit two youngsters in Windsor Great Park, and it is believed that this is the first time a senior member of the royal family has directly attended in court proceedings since that time.
On the first day of the trial, lawyers for MGN said the publisher “unreservedly apologises” to the duke for one instance of unlawful information gathering and that it accepts he was entitled to “appropriate compensation”.
According to Andrew Green KC, it was acknowledged that an MGN reporter at The People had given a private investigator instructions to illegally obtain information about Harry’s activities at the Chinawhite nightclub one night in February 2004.
“Otherwise, the specified allegations are denied, or in a few cases not admitted,” he added.
According to Mr. Green, there was a mention of a payment record for £75 made in February 2004.
He continued: “It is admitted that this represented an instruction to engage in unlawful information gathering, and MGN unreservedly apologises and accepts that the Duke of Sussex is entitled to appropriate compensation for it.
“MGN does not know what information this related to, although it clearly had some connection with his conduct at the nightclub.”
The barrister said that there was a People article published in February 2004 “giving the recollection of a woman Harry spent time with” at the club.
Mr Green added: “The Duke of Sussex notably does not claim in relation to this article, so it is not alleged that this instruction led to the publication of his private information.
“The fee paid, £75, suggests little work was involved.”
The three more claimants are comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman, former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson, and actor Michael Turner (better known by his stage name Michael Le Vell), who is best remembered for playing Kevin Webster in the venerable soap opera.
Mr Green said voicemail interception was denied in all four cases and that there was “no evidence or no sufficient evidence”.
The barrister continued: “There is some evidence of the instruction of third parties to engage in other types of unlawful information gathering in respect of each of the claimants, save for Mr Turner whose claim is entirely denied, and MGN has made pleaded admissions in respect thereof.
“MGN unreservedly apologises for all such instances of unlawful information gathering, and assures the claimants that such conduct will never be repeated.”
At the start of the trial in May, an MGN spokesperson said: “Where historical wrongdoing has taken place we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully.”
The only other trial to have occurred during the protracted litigation was a 2015 trial of representative claims, including those brought by former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, former footballer Paul Gascoigne, and actress Sadie Frost. MGN has previously settled a number of claims against it in relation to unlawful information gathering.