The sight of Prince Harry marching up the steps of the high court on Monday came as a shock. On the agenda was a pre-trial legal hearing in his claim against the Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers. This was not promising material for a courtroom drama. But Harry’s presence suddenly changed that, as news alerts were pinged out to mark his “surprise” court visit.
In hindsight it should not have come as such a surprise. The prince has repeatedly expressed his loathing for the British press and the Mail in particular.
He raged against the title in his much-hyped book Spare, and has vowed to crusade against it. His presence in court will be seen as a sign that he is not bluffing.
Pre-trial hearings – where barristers argue over a series of technical legal points – are not normally box-office material. There were no witnesses called to give evidence on Monday morning at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, no big revelations, and a lot of legal arguments over the status of material provided under the Inquiries Act (2005).
Harry could have snuck in a side entrance. Instead he chose to walk in through the front gate, using the media he hates to draw global attention to this early technical hearing in his battle against the Mail.
Harry’s vendetta against Associated Newspapers is deeply personal. At times it can even sound like a life and death struggle.
His dislike of the tabloid press in general began when his mother was killed. Harry claims she was hounded to her death by the paparazzi and their press masters. “I don’t want history to repeat itself,” he said.
But he fears it may. At one point in Spare he says that after “torturing my mother … they would be coming for me.”
In more recent years his fear and loathing has become more focused. He writes that the Mail “took the lead” in the media’s treatment of Meghan. He singled out its headline: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton” as “disgraceful”. He also noted that the Mail later carried a column by Rachel Johnson that referred to Meghan’s “exotic DNA”. Harry characterised the column as “predicting that Meg would do something genetically to the royal family”.
Associated Newspapers has previously said its portrayal of Meghan has been much more positive than Harry states and has published an opinion column that highlighted its “welcoming and sympathetic” coverage.
Harry also blames the Mail for ruining his and Meghan’s plans to live away from the royal family, first in Oxfordshire and then in Canada.
In a Netflix documentary Harry claimed the stress of Meghan’s privacy action against the Mail on Sunday caused her to miscarry. “I believe my wife suffered a miscarriage because of what the Mail did. I watched the whole thing,” he said.
Harry is part of a group of seven prominent claimants – including Elton John, Doreen Lawrence and Sadie Frost – collectively alleging widespread illegality at the Mail’s titles.
In an ITV interview in January, Harry’s friend Tom Bradby questioned the wisdom of taking on the might of the Mail. Bradby said: “The stakes I would say are very high, you’re suggesting you know, they [the Mail] hired private investigators to break into people’s houses to plant a listening device, I mean this is off the scale, they deny it absolutely. Let’s be clear, you would owe them a pretty abject apology if you’re not right.”
Harry’s reply was defiant: “Well if it wasn’t … they would presumably sue us,” adding: “Who’s policing them?”
Harry feels this role of policing the media is his duty despite a warning from his father that it would be “suicide” to take on the press.
He told Bradby: “I will continue to serve my country from abroad, and changing the media, who I believe is at the epicentre of so many of the problems across the UK where people are suffering, then I’m going to try and make a difference. And it may be incredibly hard, and I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, but it is 100% worth it.”
Harry was joined in court by Frost, John, and David Furnish – all of whom are also bringing cases against the Mail’s publisher. But John and his husband chose to avoid the same media scrum through the front gate. Harry and Frost sat one seat apart from each other in the busy courtroom.
The royal appeared in no mood to settle. He sat at the back of the courtroom during the technical legal hearing, taking sips from a Pret a Manger bottle of water and making notes in a small notepad while browsing his phone.
Speaking when the legal action was launched against it in October, Associated Newspapers denied the allegations.
A spokesperson said: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims – based on no credible evidence – appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”