Prince Harry awarded £140,600 damages in Mirror Group hacking case | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

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Prince Harry notched up a victory in his fight with the UK’s tabloid press on Friday after the High Court found he was the victim of unlawful information gathering by Mirror Group Newspapers and awarded him substantial damages.

The Duke of Sussex called for a criminal investigation into the company and individuals involved after the court found there had been the “widespread” use of unlawful practices by the publisher to gather information, including phone hacking.

The ruling and damages of £140,600 has broad implications for Britain’s tabloid press. King Charles III’s younger son has three parallel legal cases against newspapers claiming phone hacking and other illegal behaviour.

Mr Justice Fancourt said phone hacking had been “an important tool” for the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People — all Mirror Group publications — and was even employed during the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that started in 2011.

Two directors knew about the journalists’ behaviour, the judge said in a ruling that also implicated Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror and now a host for TalkTV.

Fifteen of 33 articles Prince Harry complained about were the product of phone hacking or other unlawful information gathering, the judge found.

However, the judge said Prince Harry’s case of voicemail interception and unlawful information gathering had been proved “in part only”. His claims in relation to the other 18 articles “did not stand up to careful analysis”.

Prince Harry had alleged, along with three other claimants, that the media group unlawfully gathered information over a period of almost 20 years. He was the first royal to give evidence in a court of law since the 19th century during High Court proceedings in the Mirror case in June.

Fancourt ruled that unlawful information gathering was widespread at all three Mirror Group newspapers between 1996 and 1999. Nothing was proved in relation to the years 1991 to 1994 and there was some unlawful activity in 1995, he said.

Sly Bailey, the company’s former chief executive, and Paul Vickers, ex-group legal director, “turned a blind eye to what was going on, and positively concealed it,” Fancourt said.

Bailey has previously denied “categorically” that she was involved in unlawful activity at the newspaper. Vickers has also denied any knowledge of sources of stories obtained by phone hacking.

The judge also said he accepted evidence provided by journalist Omid Scobie, who alleged that when he was on work experience at the Mirror, Morgan had been told that an article on Kylie Minogue and James Gooding had come from mobile phone messages.

“I found Mr Scobie to be a straightforward and reliable witness and I accept what he said about Mr Morgan’s involvement in the Minogue/Gooding story,” Fancourt said. “No evidence was called by MGN to contradict it.”

Morgan, who edited the Mirror between 1995 and 2004, said on Friday: “I have never hacked a phone or told anyone else to hack a phone, and nobody has produced any actual evidence to prove that I did.”

Unlawful information gathering and phone hacking continued between 2006 and 2011, Fancourt added. Phone hacking remained “extensive” during those years, although it was done “in a more controlled way”.

The High Court had decided in 2015 that hacking was “extensive and habitual” at the Mirror Group between 1999 and 2006.

In a statement read outside court by his barrister David Sherborne, the prince called on the police and prosecutors to “do their duty for the British public” and “investigate bringing charges”, and also said the financial regulator and stock market authorities should investigate.

Prince Harry’s claim was heard alongside those brought by Coronation Street actors Nikki Sanderson and Michael Turner, and Fiona Wightman, ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse.

Turner was awarded a total of £31,650 in damages, but the judge ruled that Sanderson and Wightman had brought their claims too late.

Shares in Reach PLC, the parent company for what was Mirror Group Newspapers, jumped 7 per cent on Friday following the decision, which is expected to reduce the number of other claims against the group.

Reach said that, as a result of the ruling, “all claims issued after 31 October 2020 are now likely to be dismissed other than where exceptional circumstances apply”.

The payout was lower than had been claimed by Prince Harry, and will now be used as a basis to calculate damages for the remaining cases not cut off by the time limitation.


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