Harry will become the first British royal in 130 years to testify in court

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Prince Harry will become the first member of Britain’s royal family to testify in court in 130 years when he testifies next week in his trial against a newspaper group he accuses of unlawful behavior.

Harry, the youngest son of King Charles, will appear in the witness box at the High Court in London in the case he and more than 100 other celebrities and high profile figures have brought against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) , publisher of the Daily Mirror. , Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

It will be the first time a senior royal has given evidence since Edward VII testified in part in a divorce case in 1870 and 20 years later in a libel trial over a card game, both before he was become king.

Harry, who is fifth in line to the throne, has barely made headlines in the past six months due to his legal wrangling with the British press and the publication of his memoir and the Netflix documentary series in which he starred. accused other members of the royal family. of collusion with tabloids.

His court appearance is likely to attract worldwide attention.

David Yelland, senior communications adviser and former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun tabloid – a publication Harry is also suing – said the royals have long sought to avoid legal action because they are not in control of the situation .

“These cases are often cases of mutual assured destruction. I don’t think anyone will come out on top,” he said.

More than 100 people are suing MGN, with Harry and three others selected as test cases.

The trial, which began last month, was told that MGN reporters or private investigators commissioned by them carried out “industrial-scale” phone hacking and other illegal acts to obtain information about the prince and the other claimants.

This was done with the knowledge and approval of editors and executives, said plaintiffs’ attorney David Sherborne. MGN disputes the allegations and says high-profile figures denied knowing anything about the hack and hid any wrongdoing from them.

‘ULTIMATE MAINTENANCE’

The court was told by a journalist and biographer of Harry that one of those who knew of the hack was former editor Piers Morgan, now one of Britain’s most prominent broadcasters and a harsh criticism of the prince and his wife Meghan.

Morgan, who has denied involvement in illegal behavior and accused Harry of invading his own family’s privacy, quit as a breakfast TV presenter after making candid remarks about Meghan.

“It’s hard to escape the idea of ​​him using the courts because he knows when he’s on the witness stand he’ll be believed,” Yelland said. “This is the last interview to be cross-examined by a hostile lawyer on the witness stand.”

At the start of the trial, MGN, now owned by Reach, apologized in court papers and admitted that on one occasion the Sunday People had illegally sought information about Harry and that he was entitled to compensation.

But he dismissed his other claims, saying he had no proof for his claims. Instead, Buckingham Palace is likely to feature prominently in Harry’s cross-examination, with MGN arguing some information came from royal aides.

MGN documents say a story about Harry arose when his father’s former assistant private secretary and Morgan had “regular meals and drinking sessions together”.

Harry said his family and their aides had been complicit in leaking negative stories to protect or enhance their own reputations. The palace did not comment.

This week’s appearance will be Harry’s second time this year at the High Court in London, having joined singer Elton John and others for hearings in March into their trial against tabloid publisher Daily and Sunday Mail.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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