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Prince Harry has filed multiple lawsuits against tabloids in the U.K.


Prince Harry made headlines last week after saying that he and his wife, Meghan, were chased at high speed by paparazzi through New York City, though police said there were no collisions, injuries or arrests. Back in the U.K., the British royal is battling the tabloid press on another front. He's filed multiple lawsuits accusing several newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, of hacking his voicemails and using other illicit methods to obtain stories about him. Joining us to discuss this is media expert professor Tim Luckhurst of Durham University in England. Thank you so much for being with us.

TIM LUCKHURST: Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: I gather that these allegations date back to more than a decade ago. So why is Prince Harry taking up this fight right now?

LUCKHURST: That is a very interesting question indeed. Harry has reopened the issue of phone hacking in Britain. Many newspapers, certainly the tabloid press, did hack telephones in the late 1990s and at the beginning of the 21st century. Most cases for phone hacking were brought, therefore, a long time ago. And in the U.K., it's unusual for a case to be brought more than six years after the alleged offenses were committed.

RASCOE: Clearly, Prince Harry has some animus towards the media. I mean, he refers to some journalists as cut-rate criminals and sadists in his memoirs. But is it clear whether he was the victim of illegal behavior?

LUCKHURST: It's not clear. And, of course, that's what the court case will seek to determine. There is, of course, the complication that Prince Harry feels very strongly that his mother, Princess Diana, was killed by the attention of tabloid journalists and that she would still be with us if they had not, as he sees it, pursued her car in Paris all those years ago.

Now, as a reporter and, in fact, a deputy editor of The Scotsman newspaper, I covered that story. I was in Paris. And I know that the way the French newspapers saw it was that the driver was drunk and Princess Diana wasn't wearing a seatbelt. But those do not seem to be factors which Harry takes into consideration. He thinks his mother was killed by tabloid journalists, and I think part of this case is about revenge against a group of people who he despises.

RASCOE: The issue of hacking has been a big deal because more than a decade ago, media magnate Rupert Murdoch shut down one of his tabloids there after private investigators hired by journalists at the paper hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, and that was a huge scandal. Have newspapers cleaned up their act since then?

LUCKHURST: Yes. Newspapers have cleaned up their act considerably since the evidence that Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl's telephone had been hacked. There have been a major investigation of the standards in British tabloid journalists. The Leveson inquiry, led by the judge, Sir Brian Leveson, looked in great detail at the conduct of Britain's mass market tabloid newspapers, concluded that hacking had certainly been a technique which had been used to obtain stories, particularly scandal stories about celebrities, and that hacking must stop. It was already illegal, but it was widely used.

RASCOE: So what are the chances of Prince Harry winning these cases?

LUCKHURST: The case is being rigorously defended by the Daily Mirror and its lawyers. A lot of the stories which Harry claims were obtained by hacking appear to have been in the public domain by other means. Some of them are extremely trivial. But there are a few cases in which it looks as if there may be a plausible argument that they may have been the product of illegal phone interception. If that is the case, it is conceivable that Harry will win. But this is case - it has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and it is certainly one which is not easy to predict. Indeed, he will have to appear in court himself in June, which will be a very unusual experience for a former royal. And that will be a very interesting experience for the British electorate to watch.

RASCOE: That's Professor Tim Luckhurst, former journalist and the principal of South College at Durham University. Thank you so much for joining us.

LUCKHURST: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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