Paul Burrell was their mother’s trusted confidant but after her death, he wrote a tell-all book spilling her secrets.
The Duke of Sussex is suing United Kingdom-based tabloid publisher Mirror Group Newspapers on allegations of phone hacking, including in relation to a story in The People published on December 28, 2003.
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However, Harry’s account of what happened appeared to disintegrate during cross-examination in a dramatic moment that may remind some of Queen Elizabeth II‘s statement in relation to his 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview that “some recollections may vary.”
Harry said the article “reveals details of a private disagreement between myself and my brother regarding a proposed meeting with Paul Burrell, our mother’s former butler” and in live testimony added: “This kind of article sows distrust between brothers.”
He continued: “The article accurately sets out the position that my brother was open to fixing a meeting with Paul to discuss his ongoing exposés about our mother, however, I had made up my mind about the kind of person I thought Paul was and was firmly against meeting him at this point in my life. To the best of my recollection, I do not believe a meeting went ahead in 2003.”
Andrew Green, the lawyer for the Mirror Group, told Harry the 55-page witness statement submitted to the court contradicted his memoir, Spare.
The attorney read a section to the court: “Mummy’s former butler had penned a tell-all, which actually told nothing. It was merely one man’s self-justifying, self-centering version of events. My mother once called this butler a dear friend, trusted him implicitly. We did too. Now this. He was milking her disappearance for money. It made my blood boil. I wanted to fly home, confront him.
“I phoned Pa, announced that I was getting on a plane. I’m sure it was the one and only conversation I had with him while I was in Australia. He—and then, in a separate phone call, Willy—talked me out of it.”
During Harry’s live witness testimony, Green told Harry the two versions contradicted each other and asked which was accurate.
The prince initially replied: “I wrote it when I was 38 years old. In this story, I was 18.”
Green said “The point is the account of what you wanted,” and Harry replied: “I assume I would have wanted a meeting.”
The attorney pressed Harry further asking: “Does that mean that the statement in your witness statement was inaccurate?”
Harry said at the time he was in the Australian outback. Green pressed further asking whether he wanted a meeting or not. The prince said: “I cannot remember whether I wanted a meeting or not.”
The exchange was the most awkward moment in a day when Green attempted to chip away at Harry’s account of phone hacking piece by piece.
The attorney took him through a series of stories the duke argues was gathered illegally and showed him how parts had come from other newspapers, Britain’s Press Association news agency, or even statements by the palace—some official, some provided on background.
One story quoted an anonymous source who said Prince Harry’s former girlfriend, Chelsy Davy had been upset after a costume party at which he famously wore a Nazi uniform, not so much because of his outfit but because he was seen with another young woman sitting on his lap.
The story quoted an anonymous friend of Davy’s, which Harry has suggested was a regular smoke screen tactic to hide phone hacking but Green said the story had actually come from Davy’s uncle.
“It’s quite convenient to attribute that source to someone like that but at the same time [Mirror Group journalist] Jane Kerr is asking [freelance journalist] Mike Behr to find out the reaction of my girlfriend,” Harry said.
Harry said he “did not know how” how Behr, a South Africa-based freelance journalist, would find out as he did not have a relationship with Davy but, Harry said, put a tracking device on her car.
“Let’s try and focus,” Green said. “I am totally focused,” Harry replied.
“That’s based on the assumption that Ms. Kerr is being truthful about how she sourced the information, attributing it to the uncle which is somewhat convenient.”
Green repeatedly asked Harry to identify which specific elements of the stories in question were obtained by phone hacking and whose phone was hacked to get it.
Another story, published in 1996 with the headline, “Diana so sad on Harry’s big day,” included details of a visit by Princess Diana to see Harry at Ludgrove School on his 12th birthday, including how long she stayed.
Harry said he had not known that Diana’s spokesperson had told the Press Association about the visit in advance, creating the prospect that journalists could have turned up to report on it.
The prince maintained there were specific details that could only have been gathered illegally, including that he spent afternoons with his father.
Asked whether he could say definitively that a reference to him taking his parents’ divorce badly had been gained through phone hacking, Harry replied: “I can’t be sure. You’d have to ask the journalists themselves.”
That reply was typical of his response to many of Green’s attempts to force Harry to be specific about whose phone was hacked to obtain what information and the prince tended to fall back on references to Mirror Group journalists working with private investigators.
At one stage, Harry was asked about four supposedly suspicious phone calls involving King Charles’ then-press secretary Paddy Harverson and was told that three of them had been made by Harverson himself to journalists from the Mirror Group and therefore could not have been examples of phone hacking.
The duke, who swore his oath on the bible, addressed his replies to the judge who he referred to as “my lord” and was asked at the start of his testimony how he should be described. “Prince Harry” was the response.
Green also argued that Harry could not have known whether the specific stories he has complained of caused him emotional distress, as he alleges, because he cannot remember reading them at the time they were published.
And the lawyer asked Harry more than once whether he actually wrote his own witness statement or simply signed one put together by his own legal team. The duke said he wrote it all after lengthy video conference calls with his lawyers between California and London.
By the end of a grueling day, Harry was told he will need to come back tomorrow to finish his evidence but must not discuss his testimony with anyone in the meantime. He joked with the judge that he would not divulge the details during a FaceTime with his children.
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