A convicted phone hacker helping Prince Harry’s legal case against the Mirror’s publisher offered ‘pretty large sums of money’ to potential witnesses, the High Court heard yesterday.
Andrew Green KC, representing Mirror Group Newspapers – which is being sued by the duke and the three other claimants – told the judge the practice was ‘extraordinary’.
Mr Green said Graham Johnson, a ‘self-confessed professional liar’ who was sacked from the News of the World for fabricating stories, had been involved in an ‘extremely close collaboration’ with the claimants’ legal team, along with another convicted phone hacker, Dan Evans. Both were key witnesses in the case.
In a separate exchange, the trial judge demanded that the claimants’ lawyer ‘show me the evidence’ that Harry was the victim of voicemail hacking. The newspaper says there is no evidence.
Mr Justice Fancourt told Harry’s barrister David Sherborne – who is also acting for actress Nikki Sanderson, actor Michael Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman – that he wanted him to ‘show me the evidence, not just assertions’ that the duke had been hacked.
‘Give me your best two examples of particular evidence that [Harry] was able to give,’ the judge said.
Mr Sherborne replied Harry had given examples of articles which he claims were the result of ‘material he was talking about privately’, and that the duke must have been a victim of unlawful information gathering because he was ‘one of the most prime targets’.
In the final legal arguments in the seven-week case, Mr Green accused Mr Johnson of fishing for potential claimants against tabloid newspapers, and offering them thousands of pounds for book and film deals about their life stories.
The KC said Mr Johnson had persuaded private investigators formerly used by newspapers to trace people to give evidence on behalf of celebrities including Prince Harry by promising them ‘pretty large sums of money’.
Mr Green said Harry’s case was ‘entirely speculative’.
He admitted the actions of journalists in the past had been ‘reprehensible’ but current claims had been ‘wildly overstated’.
The Duke of Sussex’s case had not identified a single example of his phone being hacked, he said.
Mr Green said the prince had been persuaded to sue after meeting barrister David Sherborne at a summer party hosted by Elton John in the south of France.
Despite claiming in court he had suffered long-term distress at stories written about him, he also had not read ‘virtually any of the articles at the time’, the barrister said.
The trial is due to conclude tomorrow and Mr Justice Fancourt will deliver his ruling at a later date.