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Prince Harry testified that tabloids illegally hacked his phone in the early 2000s

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Prince Harry testified in London today against The Mirror Newspaper Group. He says tabloids illegally hacked his phone more than a decade ago. Harry is the first British royal to take the witness stand in more than a century. The Guardian's Jim Waterson was in the courtroom. Thanks so much for joining us.

JIM WATERSON: Thank you.

KELLY: Just tell me - I mean, this is historic. The last time a British royal testified in court was back in 1891. What's it been like inside that courtroom today?

WATERSON: Well, it's - there is a reason that royals try and avoid the courts because it's a messy process where you're liable to be cross-examined on things that you don't really want aired in public. The difference this time around is Harry's decided that he wants this fight. He's decided that it's his mission to take on the British tabloid media to try and get what he sees as justice for his late mother, Princess Diana, and to get - come back for the effect that it's had on his personal life in terms of tabloid coverage. So inside that courtroom, you had Prince Harry being cross-examined by a leading barrister on lots of the allegations that he has made. And he's got to substantiate all those claims that he's made.

KELLY: Yeah. And what did he say? What are the allegations he's made?

WATERSON: Harry basically says that you got incredible amounts of information about my private life from unknown sources. And Harry says, we know that tabloids, journalists at that era were hacking phones. We know that you were using private investigators to illegally get records, and I don't believe that you weren't using those techniques on me. The thing is Harry doesn't really have a smoking gun for a lot of them. A lot of the case is circumstantial. He says, I don't believe that you could have got this information in any way that was legal. And we know you did use illegal means, so therefore, you targeted me illegally. The Mirror says, sorry, mate, but we did write a lot of stuff about you. You might not have liked a lot of it, but there's no evidence that it was obtained illegally.

KELLY: Yeah. And how did that all stand up under cross-examination - any surprises?

WATERSON: Well, I think perhaps the surprise was almost about the demeanor of the barrister and how he put the case across. Some of the other witnesses in this case have really been taken apart by the lawyer, but it was a very respectful approach towards Harry. There was even a debate about whether they had to call him Your Royal Highness or Prince Harry because, you know, there's not much precedent on how you address a royal in the witness box. So that was one of the things they had to deal with. And the barrister was almost suggesting that Harry had just been misled a bit, that, I'm very sorry, Prince Harry, but you don't actually have the goods to prove your case.

KELLY: You mentioned the back-and-forth over what to call him, whether he was to be addressed as Your Royal Highness. Were there any other accommodations, anything else that, if an alien had descended from space into this courtroom, they would have known something unusual was going on?

WATERSON: You know, I've been covering these phone hacking cases for years now, and sometimes in the hearings, there's been two or three journalists there because they were often involving not particularly sexy claims and not particularly sexy people. And now Prince Harry has joined the fray. And it's really important to note that the world's media is seeing this as a Prince Harry case. But really, what Prince Harry has done is join something that's been going on for a decade-plus, quietly working its way through the court system with very little media attention. So, you know, for the world, this is Prince Harry's crusade. But in legal terms, this is part of a decade and a half of cases against the British tabloid media for the excesses of the 2000s.

KELLY: And in this particular case, tee us up for what comes next.

WATERSON: We will have a few more weeks of evidence from people who are substantially less famous than Prince Harry, people who were soap stars in the U.K. in the 2000s. But then we will shift onto a verdict probably in a few months' time. The judge will retire. There's no jury. It's just a judge. And he will write his judgment, and he will hand it down, and we will find out whether or not Harry is victorious. We will find out whether or not his claims against Piers Morgan, who was the editor of The Daily Mirror in much of that period, have been found to be correct. And we will see if he gets any money for all of it. But I think it's pretty clear this is much more personal and about having his day in court than it is about any sort of final payout. This isn't really about the money for Harry. This is about being able to get the world's media to sit up and pay attention to his case against the British tabloids.

KELLY: Jim Waterson. He is The Guardian's media editor, speaking to us from outside that courtroom where Prince Harry has testified. Thank you so much.

WATERSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUTEMEN'S "COHESION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.