By Sam Tobin and Michael Holden
London – Prince Harry failed to appear on Monday at the High Court in London where he is suing a British tabloid publisher, with the judge saying he was surprised by his absence and a lawyer for the papers calling his no-show “extraordinary”.
Harry, King Charles’ younger son, will face hours of questioning in the witness box on Tuesday, becoming the first senior British royal to give evidence in court for 130 years.
He is one of more than 100 other high-profile figures suing the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, for alleged phone-hacking and other unlawful behaviour between 1991 and 2011.
The trial began last month, as lawyers representing Harry and three other test claimants attempted to prove that unlawful information gathering was carried out with the knowledge and approval of senior editors and executives.
Harry’s allegations are the focus of the trial this week, and the prince had been expected to attend on Monday.
His lawyer David Sherborne told the judge, Timothy Fancourt, that Harry had flown from his home in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, after attending his daughter Lilibet’s second birthday, but was not available to give evidence on Monday.
“His travel arrangements are such and his security arrangements are such that it is a little bit tricky,” Sherborne told the packed courtroom.
Fancourt said he was “surprised” after he had asked that the first witness in each of the four test cases appear in court on the first day of their individual case.
MGN’s lawyer Andrew Green said it was “absolutely extraordinary” that the prince would not be there on Monday, and accused his legal team of wasting the court’s time, saying he had expected to start cross-examining the royal.
Green is seeking to question Harry for more than a day over 33 articles which the prince says were based on material which was unlawfully obtained. It means Harry could be returning to give further evidence on Wednesday.
MGN, now owned by Reach RCH.L, apologised at the start of the trial for one admitted occasion that the Sunday People had unlawfully sought information about Harry, accepting he was entitled to compensation.
The publisher has previously admitted its titles were involved in phone-hacking and has settled more than 600 claims at a cost of more than £100 million ($120 million) in damages and costs.
But it has rejected all Harry’s other allegations, saying he had no evidence for his claims. Buckingham Palace is likely to feature prominently in Harry’s cross-examination, with MGN arguing that some information had come from royal aides.
In court documents, Harry says the impact of the alleged unlawful activities was to cause him “huge distress” and paranoia, blaming it for the breakdown of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
“Prince Harry was one of the most written-about individuals in these three newspapers,” said Sherborne, saying some 2,500 articles had appeared about Harry’s private life in the MGN titles.
“Stories about him were some of the most likely to drive sales and the suggestion that there was just one instance of unlawful information gathering at one of these newspapers, we say is plainly implausible.”
This week’s appearance will be the second time this year Harry has attended the High Court, after joining singer Elton John and others for hearings in March over their lawsuit against the publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mail tabloids.
Harry, the fifth-in-line to the throne, has barely been out of the headlines in the last six months.
He is in engaged in several legal battles with the British press, including a similar phone-hacking case against Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper arm.
The prince has also accused his family and their aides in his memoir and Netflix documentary series of colluding with tabloids. The palace has not commented on those accusations.