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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have stepped forward to condemn “predatory practices” that exist in the British media today, after an investigative report revealed that The Sun tabloid once hired a private investigator to “spy” on Duchess Meghan and her family.
Byline Investigates, a crowd-funded outlet which aims to expose illegal newsroom practices often not covered by the mainstream media, released a report accusing the newspaper of hiring a U.S.-based private investigator to “mine” huge amounts of data on Meghan Markle, her parents, family members, business associates, and her ex-husband.
In the exposé, the website revealed that The Sun’s U.S. editor hired the PI in late October 2016, immediately after it was revealed that Meghan was dating Prince Harry. Among the personal details provided to the newspaper (invoiced at $2,055), were home addresses, cellphone numbers, Social Security numbers, license plate details, and much more.
It was shortly after the 90-page dossier was passed over to The Sun that the U.K. tabloid ran a number of exclusive items on the then-Suits actress, including details of text messages and the first in a series of paid interviews with her half sister, Samantha Markle.
Responding to the discovery, a spokesperson for the Sussexes tells BAZAAR.com that the couple are “grateful” that the newspapers’ information gathering is being brought to light. “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex feel that today is an important moment of reflection for the media industry and society at large, as this investigative report shows that the predatory practices of days past are still ongoing, reaping irreversible damage for families and relationships,” the representative said in a statement. “They are grateful to those working in media who stand for upholding the values of journalism, which are needed now more than ever before.”
Private investigator Daniel “Danno” Portley-Hanks told The New York Times about his freelance work for The Sun—who are also currently at the center of an unrelated phone-hacking legal case launched by Prince Harry in 2019. The L.A.-based detective revealed that it was his data that put The Sun “onto the trail” of Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, as well as specialist reporters staking out addresses in the U.S.
In his interview, Portley-Hanks acknowledges that handing over such personal details was a violation of the law, which only allows licensed private investigators to access details such as social security numbers for civil and criminal cases.
“[The Sun] sent me a letter I had to sign that said I wouldn’t use any illegal methods to locate people or do background checks,” Portley-Hanks told The New York Times. “Then the reporters came back to me and said, ‘But if you want to get work, keep doing what you’ve been doing,’ with a nod and a wink.” He added that he is remorseful for his actions and willing to speak with the Sussexes’ lawyers.
News Group Newspapers, which publishes The Sun, tells BAZAAR in a statement that the paper did not request social security numbers or use them for any purpose, adding “[Mr. Portley-Hanks] was not tasked to do anything illegal or breach any privacy laws - indeed he was instructed clearly in writing to act lawfully and he signed a legal undertaking that he would do so. The information he provided could not and did not raise any concerns that he had used illegal practices to obtain the information.”
The statement continues, “The Sun abides by all laws and regulations and maintains strict protocols in relation to the obtaining of information from third parties. Strict compliance is in place to cover all our reporting.”
The Sun’s publisher (formerly known as News International) has been linked to hundreds of allegations of unlawful information gathering since the 1990s, many of which are still ongoing legal cases today. A phone hacking scandal lead to The Sun’s sister title, The News of the World, being forced to close in 2011. The following year, owner Rupert Murdoch and a number of journalists and editors were summoned to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry, a landmark judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics of the British press.
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