Prince Harry Testifies About "Utterly Vile" British Tabloids

Prince Harry Testifies About "Utterly Vile" British Tabloids

Prince Harry took the witness stand today in his case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). In doing so, the Duke of Sussex became the first senior British royal to give evidence in over 130 years. (The last time a royal testified was when Edward VII testified in a slander trial in 1891.)

At the same time he appeared in court, Prince Harry's legal team released the royal's written witness statement, covering what he will discuss. That 55-page document is full of insight into their legal strategy.

Particularly of note in the witness statement is the section entitled "My Relationship with the Tabloid Press," which details Prince Harry's feelings about the tabloids—and, in essence, the impetus for this entire case. Here, the key passages from that section, and from the conclusion about his case against the Mirror Group:

1. The tabloids led Harry to a "downward spiral."

prince harry gives evidence at the mirror group newspapers trial
Prince Harry arrives to give evidence at the Mirror Group phone hacking trial.Karwai Tang - Getty Images

"It is no secret that I have had, and continue to have, a very difficult relationship with the tabloid press in the UK," Prince Harry begins. "In my experience as a member of the Royal Family, each of us gets cast into a specific role by the tabloid press. 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. They then start to edge you towards playing the role or roles that suit them best and which sells as many newspapers as possible, especially if you are the 'spare' to the 'heir'. You’re then either the 'playboy prince', the 'failure', the 'drop out' or, in my case, the 'thicko', the 'cheat', the 'underage drinker', the 'irresponsible drug taker', the list goes on."

He continues that the tabloids led him into a "downward spiral," calling their behavior "utterly vile." Harry writes, "As a teenager and in my early twenties, I ended up feeling as though I was playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes that they wanted to pin on me mainly because I thought that, if they are printing this rubbish about me and people were believing it, I may as well 'do the crime', so to speak. It was a downward spiral, whereby the tabloids would constantly try and coax me, a 'damaged' young man, into doing something stupid that would make a good story and sell lots of newspapers. Looking back on it now, such behaviour on their part is utterly vile."

2. "The tabloids wanted me to be single."

the duke and duchess of sussex visit johannesburg day two
Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in 2019.Chris Jackson - Getty Images

The Duke of Sussex then continues to discuss the impact the tabloids have had on his romantic relationships, past and present. "Whilst they would, of course, report on my successes in life, it seemed to me that they took far greater pleasure in knocking me down, time and time again. This extended to my relationships," he writes. "I always felt as if the tabloids wanted me to be single, as I was much more interesting to them and sold more newspapers."

And whenever Prince Harry did date, he says, the tabloids "were very keen to report the details but would then, very quickly, seek to try and break it up by putting as much strain on it and creating as much distrust as humanly possible, as I shall go into in more detail later in this statement. This twisted objective is still pursued to this day even though I’m now married." That last sentence is perhaps a nod to the coverage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's relationship.

He adds, "Whenever I have been in a relationship, I have always tried to be the best partner that I possibly could but every woman has her limit. Unfortunately, they are not just in a relationship with me but with the entire tabloid press as the third party."

Though Prince Harry says he accepts he has a public role within the British royal family, he argues no level of privacy has ever existed for him. "Despite the common misconception, I was no more than 5% funded by the taxpayer while I was a working Royal in the UK, yet it felt as though the tabloid press thought that they owned me absolutely, and deserved to know everything there is to know about me, my life, my movements and the lives of those people who came into my orbit."

3. "I have always tried to take as my duty to stand up to things which are wrong."

the duke of sussex hosts the rugby league world cup 2021 draws
This is just one of several cases Prince Harry is currently involved in.Chris Jackson - Getty Images

The next section is where he specifically gets into unlawful information gathering, the crux of the trial.

"There also seems to be a real blurring of the lines in terms of what is in the public interest and what is of interest to the public. The tabloids concentrated on salacious stories about my relationships and so on to satisfy the latter while appearing to completely ignore the former, as a means of justifying their intrusion," Prince Harry writes. "I simply don’t understand (and never have) how the inner, private details of my relationships for example, could have anything to do with the well-being of society or the running of the country and therefore be in the public interest or, indeed, how the use of voicemail interception and other unlawful information gathering techniques to uncover such private information could be either."

He notes, that he understands that his relationships would be of interest, but "what I complain of here is illegal or unlawful, and that is something which I feel incredibly strongly about, not just in a personal capacity but as part of the role I have always tried to take as my duty to stand up to things which are wrong and the public or people without the same resources should not have to accept or undergo."

Prince Harry has previously said that "changing the media landscape in the UK" is his "life's work."

4. He faced preconceived notions about being a "thicko."

prince harry, the younger son of the pri
Prince Harry at Eton in 2003. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH - Getty Images

Prince Harry argues that the tabloid coverage of his life created an "alternative and distorted version of me" that preceded him wherever he went.

"It even got to the stage where the tabloids would routinely publish articles about me that were often wrong but interspersed with snippets of truth, which I now think were most likely gleaned from voicemail interception and/or unlawful information gathering," Harry writes. "This created an alternative and distorted version of me and my life to the general public - being those people that I had to serve and interact with as part of my role in the Royal Family - to the point where any one of the thousands of people that I met or was introduced to on any given day, could easily have gone 'you know what, you're an idiot. I've read all the stories about you and now I'm now going to stab you'. This extended to every new place that I went to whether it be a classroom at school or a new course in the army, I always wondered, when walking into a room of unknown people, whether they had read all these stories and what judgment they had already formed based on what they’d read in the tabloids."

He says that "whatever advantage people claimed I had by walking into a room as ‘Prince Harry’ was immediately flipped on its head, because 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.'"

For example, Prince Harry writes, "If you were one of the examiners for the Regular Commissions Board, for instance, then you are going to expect me to screw up, as you’ve already made an opinion before even meeting me based on the tabloid reports. It meant that I felt that I never went in at the same level as everybody else because the spotlight was always on me."

5. Tabloid behavior is "criminal."

prince harry arrives at high court, rolls building several
Crowds of onlookers and media surrounded Prince Harry as he arrived to testify today.SOPA Images - Getty Images

The section on his relationship with the tabloids ends with a powerful statement: "I genuinely feel that in every relationship that I’ve ever had – be that with friends, girlfriends, with family or with the army, there’s always been a third party involved, namely the tabloid press. Having seen me grow up from a baby (being born into this 'contractual relationship' without any choice) and scrutinised my every move, the tabloids have known the challenges and mental health struggles that I have had to deal with throughout my childhood and adult life and for them to then play on that and use it to their own advantage, I think is, well, criminal."

6. Prince Harry thinks we need to "save journalism as a profession."

the coffin carrying queen elizabeth ii is transferred from buckingham palace to the palace of westminster
Prince Harry in September 2022.Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

Outside of the section on his relationship with the tabloids, his "Mirror Group Claim" section is also fascinating—it features the Duke of Sussex's take on why he is doing this. "In my view, in order to save journalism as a profession, journalists need to expose those people in the media that have stolen or highjacked the privileges and powers of the press, and have used illegal or unlawful means for their own gain and agendas," Prince Harry writes.

He adds, "In the same vein, I am bringing this claim, not because I hate the tabloid press or even necessarily a section of it, but in order to properly hold the people who have hijacked those privileges, which come with being a member of the press, to account for their actions."

7. The state of the UK press and government are "at rock bottom."

Prince Harry continues that he has "unique perspective" on this issue. He writes that this is personal for him, "This has become a huge problem of which I have a unique perspective and experience perhaps, having had a front row seat to it. Because they have showed no willingness to change, I feel that I need to make sure that this unlawful behaviour is exposed, because obviously I don’t want anybody else going through the same thing that I’ve been going through on a personal level."

The royal also takes a wider view, writing, "On a national level as, at the moment, our country is judged globally by the state of our press and our government – both of which I believe are at rock bottom. Democracy fails when your press fails to scrutinise and hold the government accountable, and instead choose to get into bed with them so they can ensure the status quo. I may not have a role within the Institution but, as a member of the British Royal family, and as a soldier upholding important values, I feel there’s a responsibility to expose this criminal activity in the name of public interest. The country and the British public deserve to know the depths of what was actually happening then, and indeed now. We will be better off for it."

Read Prince Harry's full witness statement here.

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