Prince Harry says he feared British tabloid journalists wanted to prove his father was James Hewitt so he could be “ousted” from the royal family.
Harry made the remarks in a witness statement that was released Tuesday morning as he became the first senior royal to give evidence and be cross examined in open court in over 130 years.
As part of his statement, Harry detailed dozens of articles that he believes Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) obtained by illegal means, including voicemail hacking.
One of these was an article published in 2002 in the Sunday People headlined: “Plot to rob the DNA of Harry.”
Harry said the article “reported a plot to steal a sample of my DNA to test my parentage” in the wake of multiple rumors that Hewitt was his father after his mother admitted to having an affair with him in her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir.
In his statement Harry said: “Numerous newspapers had reported a rumour that my biological father was James Hewitt, a man my mother had a relationship with after I was born. At the time of this article and others similar to it, I wasn’t actually aware that my mother hadn’t met Major Hewitt until after I was born. This timeline is something I only learnt of in around 2014, although I now understand this was common knowledge amongst the defendant’s journalists.
“At the time, when I was 18 years old and had lost my mother just six years earlier, stories such as this felt very damaging and very real to me. They were hurtful, mean and cruel. I was always left questioning the motives behind the stories. Were the newspapers keen to put doubt into the minds of the public so I might be ousted from the Royal Family?”
Harry spoke about the rumors that Hewitt was his father in his memoir, Spare, writing: “There was even talk that some reporters were seeking my DNA to prove it my first intimation that, after tormenting my mother and sending her int hiding, they would soon be coming for me.”
Harry’s testimony was released after he arrived at the High Court Tuesday morning. He stepped out of a black SUV in central London shortly before 10 a.m. local time.
Harry was dressed in a dark suit and said, “good morning” to waiting reporters. He is giving evidence in his case against Mirror Group Newspapers, the publishers of the British tabloid the Daily Mirror, whom he accuses of publishing stories based on illegally obtained information.
Asked how he would like to be addressed by his own lawyer, David Sherborne, as he stepped onto the stand, Harry said that on the first occasion he would like to be addressed as “Your Royal Highness” and after that as “Prince Harry.”
After a brief recap of his own witness statement, cross examination was begun by MGN lawyer Andrew Green, with the process due to continue on Wednesday.
Green has been described by a prominent legal journal as “a beast in court,” with Legal 500 saying he was: “A spectacular cross-examination master; his charming manner brings the judge onside and makes his evisceration of witnesses all the more devastating.”
In his absence, his lawyer laid out Harry’s case alleging that he was the subject of systematic surveillance by reporters and investigators working for MGN, which led to the breakdown of relationships as he wrongly suspected close friends were leaking intelligence to the newspapers.
Sherborne also alleged that MGN conducted surveillance of Harry’s mother Diana, leading her to become paranoid and isolated.
This morning, as he was sworn in, his witness statement was released.
Harry said in the statement, which went through 33 articles published about him by MGN, that he was effectively assigned a “role” by the papers.
He wrote: “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.
“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 behavior on their part is utterly vile.”
Harry said the papers took “pleasure” in ruining his relationships, because as a single person he ”sold more newspapers” and said, “Whenever I got into a relationship, they 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… This twisted objective is still pursued to this day even though I’m now married.”
He added: “At no point did I have a girlfriend or a relationship with anyone without the tabloids getting involved and ultimately trying to ruin it using whatever unlawful means at their disposal.”
Harry argued that the publication of “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…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 I’m now going to stab you.’”
Harry then moved on to a discussion of the 33 sample articles and why he believed they were based on illegally gathered information.
He said he thought he “was first issued with a mobile phone by the Institution…when I first went to Eton, when I was still a minor. I have never been the named account holder for any mobile that I have had and have almost never received a phone bill. As far as I was aware, this was all dealt with by the Institution, presumably for security purposes although that now seems rather ironic.”
He said: “I wouldn’t go into my voicemail unless the little envelope symbol flashed up on my phone signalling to me that I had a new message. Sometimes this symbol would vanish before I had a chance to listen to the voicemail. I don’t know how long after they’d been listened to that the symbol vanished, presumably straight away. I also distinctly remember people saying to me ‘did you not get my voicemail?’ on both a personal and a work-related level. I was like, ‘no,’ and sometimes I would go back into my voicemail to look for it but still couldn’t find it.”
He said the hacking, “created a huge amount of paranoia in my relationships. I would become immediately suspicious of anyone that was named in a story about me… I felt that I couldn’t trust anybody, which was an awful feeling for me especially at such a young age. As I am uncovering the extent of the unlawful activities carried out by MGN’s journalist and senior executives towards me, I feel somewhat relieved to know that my paranoia towards my friends and family had, in fact, been misplaced, although feel sad for how much it impacted my adolescence.”
He also discussed the Mirror snooping on his mother Princess Diana’s calls under then-editor Piers Morgan, saying, “The thought of Piers Morgan and his band of journalists earwigging into my mother’s private and sensitive messages (in the same way as they have me) and then having given her a ‘nightmare time’ three months prior to her death in Paris, makes me feel physically sick and even more determined to hold those responsible, including Mr Morgan, accountable for their vile and entirely unjustified behavior.”
He later attacked Morgan, who has become one of Harry and Meghan’s chief critics, again, saying: “Unfortunately, as a consequence of me bringing my Mirror Group claim, both myself and my wife have been subjected to a barrage of horrific personal attacks and intimidation from Piers Morgan, who was the Editor of the Daily Mirror between 1995 and 2004, presumably in retaliation and 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.
In an extraordinary attack on the government, which makes clear how far Harry has departed from the usual royal protocols, Harry said he was bringing the case because, “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.”