Prince Harry trial - live: Mirror lawyer 'called journalist London's best criminal'
The Duke of Sussex has begun his latest battle against the British press in the High Court.
The High Court trial between Prince Harry and the publisher of the Daily Mirror over claims of phone hacking has finished its third week.
Today, 26 May, saw Mirror Group Newspapers’ ex-head of legal Marcus Partington deny referring to a former Mirror journalist as 'London's best criminal' because he was a phone-hacker.
He also admitted writing a 2007 note in which he said MGN had "no choice but to settle" an employment claim with another former Mirror journalist who, the note said, had the company "over a barrel". The journalist had also accused journalists at all MGN’s titles of being involved in unlawful activities.
Partington also said he was "very angry" over an allegation that he had tried to "stand up" a story which was based on UIG, by getting an ex-footballer's phone records disclosed through an injunction litigation in 2001.
On 25 May, Paul Vickers - formerly MGN’s group legal director - claimed he had asked 43 editors and senior journalists to confirm they had not engaged in UIG after the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World had broken in 2011. “They lied to me, clearly lied to me”, he said.
The Duke of Sussex is one of four people - alongside former soap actress Nikki Sanderson, comedian Paul Whitehouse's ex-wife Fiona Wightman and actor Michael Turner - bringing claims of unlawful information gathering against Mirror Group Newspapers
MGN has said in a statement about the litigation: "Where historical wrongdoing has taken place, we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully."
Yahoo News will be keeping you up to date with all the big breaking news and major talking points from the trial, which is due to last up to seven weeks.
Read the key updates from the first three days of the trial below:
Firing Piers Morgan made MGN board member ‘Angel of Death’
Today, former company secretary and group legal director – Paul Vickers – gave evidence on behalf of MGN.
He discussed in his witness statement that he “rarely” visited the editorial departments, and so would have had little day-to-day knowledge of the workings of the newsroom and how journalists were sourcing their stories.
He said he had "gone down in popular memory as the man who ‘frogmarched’ Piers Morgan out of the building after his sacking as Editor of The Daily Mirror for publishing fake photographs apparently showing British soldiers abusing prisoners of war".
The statement added: “Piers was a very popular editor amongst the majority of the journalists on the Mirror titles and they strongly disapproved of my part in his downfall.
“So, I considered myself persona non grata on the newsroom floor. I was sometimes referred to as the Angel of Death – if I appeared on the 23rd floor where the editorial staff sat, it was apparently thought someone was about to be unceremoniously fired.”
Mirror lawyer said ex-journalist ‘had them over a barrel’
Marcus Partington was questioned about a witness statement he gave in response to a 2007 employment claim from former Mirror journalist David Brown.
Brown, who was claiming unfair dismissal, said private investigators were used to blag or hack private information and that “reporters on all of the Trinity mirror titles used illegal information supplied to them”.
The note, which Partington admitted he wrote, read, “No choice but to settle – as over barrel.”
Mr. Justice Fancourt said to Sherborne of the note: “I really don't think you can ask for an explanation of those words” because of legal privilege, before adding: “I’m not sure you need to, they say what they say”.
Head of legal provides ‘alternative scenarios’ for hacking joke
David Sherborne has questioned Marcus Partington – formerly head of legal at MGN – over jokes about phone-hacking which two witnesses for the claimants allege he made.
In his witness statement, Partington said “I do not remember saying to Nick Buckley ‘Nick, have I got any messages this morning?’, as Mr Evans claims I said one Saturday.
"At the time of this alleged remark I worked only very occasionally on Saturdays, as Paul Mottram was the lawyer for the Sunday Mirror.
“I was working on the Daily Mirror. But I sometimes covered for him, and it is possible I could have once said such a thing. If I did, it would have been a genuine inquiry about messages left for me on the news desk.”
Equally, he claimed that: “Alternatively, I suppose it is possible I might have been making a sarcastic comment based on a story which had been published about hacking on Sunday tabloid newspapers.
“If I did make such a sarcastic comment then it would only have been based on what I’d seen in the story which was in the public domain and not on anything else.”
In his evidence given to the court at the beginning of the trial one of the witnesses who heard this joke – Dan Evans – said in his statement: “My interpretation of the moment is Mr Partington was making an in-joke.
“I remember, however, being surprised that Mr Partington clearly (as far as I was concerned) knew about my hacking, and realising, as I had hardly dealt with him before, that either Mr Buckley or Ms Weaver must have already told him about it.”
Sherborne then questioned if it was “pure coincidence” these alleged jokes were made to prolific phone-hackers.
Mirror lawyer ‘very angry’ over footballer's allegation
Marcus Partington has described himself as “very angry over this allegation” regarding the claimant’s submission that he was like a “dog with a bone” when trying to get the itemised phone bills of former football player Garry Flitcroft during an previous litigation.
Mark Lewis – Flitcroft’s lawyer – previously alleged in evidence that Partington was repeatedly “demanding” his client's phone records and that he himself had been targeted by MGN with UIG.
Lewis also alleged during his own cross-examination that this was an attempt to use phone records MGN already had, but had been obtained unlawfully.
Partington added during cross-examination that Lewis’s claims about him were “lies” and “absolute rubbish”.
Sherborne had put forward that Partington knew “as a very experienced in-house newspaper lawyer that without knowledge of what those phone records contained” the company was “vulnerable to a claim because you couldn't prove the relationship”.
In 2001, Flitcroft brought an injunction against the publisher over ‘kiss and tell’ articles about him which accused him of having affairs with two women.
Partington denied Sherborne's proposition saying “we could prove relationship on the basis of the evidence from Ms Hammonds and Ms James”, the women Flitcroft was accused of having extra-marital relationships with, and that “from memory Ms Hammonds had given us material”.
In his witness statement Partington said: “I did not possess these records as the claimants wrongly infer.”
Sherborne called this “quite a narrow phrase” to which Partington responded: “I think that's a ridiculously semantic point” and confirmed he had “not seen or been aware of these records”.
‘Lawyers have to careful about what they say in writing’
Earlier today, David Sherborne questioned Marcus Partington about a letter he wrote to the Metropolitan Police after the arrest of Sunday Mirror journalist Douglas Kempster in 1999.
Sherborne referred to it in court yesterday and today as a “game of battleship” that Partington – then head of legal at MGN – was playing with the police.
“It’s either correct or it’s not correct” Partington said in response to Sherborne arguing that while his correspondence with the police was “technically correct” it was also “disingenuous”.
Sherborne argued it was disingenuous because the letter denied payments had been made by the Sunday Mirror to a private investigator accused of unlawful activity, but — as Partington noted — the Sunday Mirror “didn’t have it’s own bank account” and all payments are made by the publishing company itself to suppliers and contributors.
Partington noted that if the police had asked a different question “then obviously I couldn’t have written this letter in the form that it’s in”.
Sherborne argued that the police “lost didn’t they” the game of battleship because “they didn't get the documents they were looking for” and later called Partington’s correspondence as “utterly misleading”.
Partington said that “lawyers have to be careful about what they say in writing”.
Mirror lawyer 'called journalist London's best criminal’
During cross-examination, an email was read out from former People journalist Sean Hoare to lawyer Charlotte Harris.In the email, Hoare wrote: “I had a long chat with Marcus Partington last week. He has no idea that you and I talk. But he clearly knows the coup.
“He is a smart, informed man. I needed to talk to Marcus because I trust him and he knows my past — indeed he calls me London's best criminal... on all accounts his advice was excellent, indeed refreshing... Marcus is on vacation but I'll be talking to him again."
Partington explained what the conversation with Hoare was about: “He was talking to me about his past at News Group Newspaper and whether to sign a witness statement in relation to that.”
Sherborne disputed Partington’s evidence, saying: “[Hoare] is clearly referring to a conversation with you in relation to the same subject matter as Ms Harris is talking to him about”.
Hoare worked at MGN title The People until 2001, when he moved to News of the World, owned by News Group.
In his witness statement, Partington denied that calling Hoare a criminal was related to phone-hacking or unlawful information gathering.
“I recall Sean asking me for advice by telephone out of the blue. I explained to him that I could not advise him, but he persisted and premised his request for advice on the basis that he was asking for a 'friend'.
“Although the conversation continued with Sean representing that he was asking on behalf of a 'friend', I suspected that he was in fact asking for himself and said that to him.
“He claimed that his 'friend' had a large amount of tobacco in Spain that his 'friend' wanted to import into the UK, the clear implication being that his 'friend' wanted to avoid paying any customs duties or taxes on the tobacco.
“My recollection is that I said to Sean in a light-hearted manner, words to the effect of, 'you're just a criminal, aren't you, Sean'.“
Those words may be the origin of Sean telling Charlotte Harris that I allegedly called him London's best criminal. The claimants' inference that I was aware of Sean's allegedly unlawful activities while he worked at MGN is entirely wrong.”
Sherborne called this “flimsy and implausible” to which Partington responded, “What’s in my witness statement is true”.
Former MGN head of legal questioned over Rio Ferdinand hacking
Marcus Partington has been questioned over the hacking of professional footballer Rio Ferdinand by David Sherborne, who is representing Prince Harry and the other claimants.
In 2015, MGN admitted that three articles regarding Ferdinand were the result of unlawful information gathering.
In his witness statement Partington said about the Ferdinand issue: “I do not remember being involved in giving legal advice on the publication of this story” and that “I do not remember Mr Ferdinand making a legal complaint following the publication.
“I did not have any discussions with the Board about this story and nor do I remember having any specific discussions with Paul Vickers about it.
“Privilege prevents me from revealing what I believe I was told years later about the source of the story, but I am certain that I was never told that the information had been "blagged" or obtained unlawfully (if that was the case).”
Sherborne questioned Partington about a letter sent to the company by Ferdinand’s legal team, “would you accept Mr Partington that there was plenty of information in that letter on which an investigation could be based?”
Partington agreed that was the case.
Judge intervenes as MGN lawyers try to block line of questioning
Justice Fancourt has rejected an objection raised by MGN’s legal team about the questioning of their witness today – Marcus Partington.
Partington was formerly MGN’s head of legal, and eventually became group legal director in 2014.
David Sherborne, for Prince Harry and the other claimants, was asking Partington about a letter he wrote to the Metropolitan Police after the arrest of Sunday Mirror journalist, Douglas Kempster, in 1999.
The objection Andrew Green KC raised was that as a solicitor for the company, Partington was protected by legal privilege and shouldn’t have to answer questions about invoices he had seen before writing the letter to the police.
Mr Justice Fancourt said that Green’s definition of privilege was “too broad” and that Partington was “working as a solicitor but he wasn’t giving advice to his client”.
Equally Justice Fancourt said that “what Mr Partington is being asked about now is what he did and what he looked at in order to assist the MPS” and that “Mr Sherborne is perfectly entitled to ask Mr Partington what he did and what he found in terms of documents”.
However, Fancourt noted that: “what he then interacted with his client afterwards is of course privilege, that can’t be gone into I fully accept”.
Justice Fancourt rejects new witnesses
So far this morning, the session has seen an application for new witnesses to be added to the schedule rejected by Mr. Justice Fancourt on the grounds that it would be “prejudicial” to the litigation.
In related news from outside the courtroom, it has been reported this morning that Hugh Grant’s claim for invasion of privacy against The Sun newspaper will go to trial.
Prince Harry’s claim against the same paper - has yet to be ruled upon, but it is believed that this will be decided later in the year.
Read more about the high profile case below
Hugh Grant’s claims of unlawful activity against NGN to be tried at High Court
MGN group legal director ‘very upset’ journalists ‘lied’ to him
“They lied to me, clearly lied to me”, Paul Vickers said during his cross-examination today regarding journalists who were engaging in or commissioning unlawful activity.
In his witness statement, Vickers explained that he had asked 43 editors and senior journalists to confirm they had not engaged in UIG after the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World had broken in 2011.
“I was aware before these reports that MGN's journalists used private investigators. But I did not believe or know they might have been used in an unlawful manner.
“The extent to which private investigators had been used, as revealed by the ICO, was news to me. After our meetings with editors in 2006 and 2007 I believed that our journalists had complied with the law as I trusted our editors at that time and I had no knowledge to suggest I shouldn't.
“But as the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World deepened in 2011, the Board considered that we needed to ask editors to confirm that they had no knowledge of not just phone hacking but also payments to serving police officers and illegal access to the police national computer and the criminal records bureau.
“I sent letters to 43 senior journalists asking for signed confirmation of these matters. The 43 were chosen on grounds of seniority – they were editors, deputy editors, news and showbiz editors and people of similar standing.
“All 43 signed and returned the letters and indeed we ended up with 44 signed letters as one other person asked to sign the letter (he considered himself sufficiently senior and was put out not to have been asked to sign the letter in the first place).”
Further the witness statement claimed that he “was not surprised to receive the replies we got to the letters as I did not believe phone hacking had been going on at MGN”.
Vickers said he was “very upset about it” regarding the alleged dishonesty of some MGN employees.
Sherborne’s cross examination has now completed and Andrew Green KC for the defendants is re-examining Vickers.