Duke of Sussex will on Tuesday become the first member of the royal family to testify in court for more than a century.
Prince Harry's showdown against the publisher of the Daily Mirror newspaper kicked off on today without him present in court.
Harry's lawyer said he would be unavailable to testify following opening statements because he'd taken a flight from Los Angeles after the birthday of his two-year-old daughter, Lilibet, on Sunday.
“I’m a little surprised,” said Justice Timothy Fancourt, noting he had directed Harry to be in court for the first day of his case if time allowed for him to begin testifying.
Mirror Group Newspapers' lawyer, Andrew Green, said he was “deeply troubled” by Harry’s absence on the trial's opening day, adding he'd need a day and a half to cross-examine the prince.
The case against Mirror Group is the first of the prince’s several lawsuits against the media to go to trial, and one of three alleging tabloid publishers unlawfully snooped on him.
Harry's lawyer, David Sherborne, said phone hacking and forms of unlawful information gathering were carried out on such a widespread scale, it was implausible the publisher's newspapers used a private investigator to dig up dirt on the prince only once, which is what they have admitted.
Mirror Group has said it used documents, public statements and sources to legally report on the prince.
But Sherborne it was not hard to infer that Mirror journalists used the same techniques on Harry — eavesdropping on voicemails and hiring private eyes to snoop — as they did on others.
When he enters the witness box, Harry, 38, will be the first member of the British royal family in more than a century to testify in court. He is expected to describe his anguish and anger over being hounded by the media throughout his life, and its impact on those around him.
He has blamed paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and said harassment and intrusion by the UK press, including allegedly racist articles, led him and his wife, Meghan, to flee to the US in 2020 and leave royal life behind.
The articles at issue in the trial date back to his 12th birthday, in 1996, when the Mirror reported Harry was feeling “badly” about the divorce of his mother and father, now King Charles III.
Harry said in court documents that ongoing tabloid reports made him wonder whom he could trust as he feared friends and associates were betraying him by leaking information to the newspapers.
He says he later discovered that the source wasn't disloyal friends but aggressive journalists and the private investigators they hired to eavesdrop on voicemails and track him to locations as remote as Argentina and an island off Mozambique.
Mirror Group Newspapers said it didn't hack Harry's phone and its articles were based on legitimate reporting techniques. The publisher admitted and apologised for hiring a private eye to dig up dirt on one of Harry's nights out at a bar, but the resulting 2004 article headlined “Sex on the beach with Harry" is not among the 33 in question at trial.
Mirror Group has paid more than £100 million (approx. €93,300,000) to settle hundreds of unlawful information-gathering claims, and printed an apology to phone hacking victims in 2015. But it denies executives knew about hacking.
The opening statements mark the second phase of a trial in which Harry and three others have accused the Mirror of phone hacking and unlawful information gathering.