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May 15, 2023updated 17 May 2023 4:26pm

Royal journalist denies having ‘vested interest’ in helping Prince Harry amid hacking trial

Omid Scobie recalls allegedly being instructed to listen to voicemails while on work experience.

By PA Media

The author of a biography on the Duke of Sussex has denied having a “vested interest” in helping Prince Harry, the High Court has heard.

Omid Scobie, co-author of the biography Finding Freedom about Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, entered the witness box on Monday as part of a trial in claims brought by several high-profile individuals, including Harry, against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

MGN, publisher of The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, is accused of unlawful information-gathering including voicemail interception, securing information through deception and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.

The publisher is contesting the cases and has also said there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception” in any of the four claims chosen as “representative” cases.

[Trial continues: Hacking ‘whistleblower’ Graham Johnson says Mirror hacking was ‘organised crime’]

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Omid Scobie recalls ‘immoral’ hacking instruction

The court heard that as a journalism student, Scobie spent a week at the Sunday People where he claims he was given “a list of mobile numbers followed by a detailed verbal description of how to listen to voicemails, as if it were a routine newsgathering technique”.

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In his witness statement, Scobie continued: “I was taken aback by what seemed completely immoral and I never carried out the task.”

Mr Justice Fancourt was told that in spring 2002, Scobie did work experience at the Daily Mirror and allegedly overheard then-editor Piers Morgan being told that information relating to Kylie Minogue and her boyfriend had come from voicemails.

The High Court in London was also told there is an invoice from a private investigator firm for £170, addressed to a showbiz journalist at the paper, for “K Minogue”.

The royal commentator continued in his written evidence: “I recall that during one of those days in the office – which housed the 3AM team and some ‘showbiz’ journalists in the same section – the editor of the newspaper, Piers Morgan, came over to talk with someone, I do not recall who, about a story in the works on Kylie Minogue and her, on-off, at the time, boyfriend James Gooding.

“Mr Morgan was asking how confident they were in the reporting and was told that the information had come from voicemails.

“I recall being surprised to hear this at the time, which is why it stuck in my mind.”

Scobie added he was “not totally shocked” by this, following his experience at the Sunday People.

Morgan, who was the Mirror’s editor between 1995 and 2004, has repeatedly denied involvement in phone hacking.

He told the BBC last week: “I think phone hacking is completely wrong and shouldn’t have been happening, and it was lazy journalists being lazy.”

Scobie linked to Harry and Meghan due to ‘factors out of my control’

At the start of his cross-examination, Andrew Green KC, for MGN, described Finding Freedom – Scobie’s book written with fellow journalist Carolyn Durand – as “favourable to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

“It was fair,” Scobie replied.

The barrister later asked whether the reporter’s career is “to some extent linked to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

Scobie said: “I would say that a lot of that would be due to factors out of my control.”

The royal correspondent later said he was a journalist “trying to do my job”.

Green said: “Do you have a vested interest in helping the Duke of Sussex if the opportunity arises?”

“No. What I am doing right now is giving ammunition to the tabloids to continue calling me his friend,” Scobie replied.

The royal correspondent said he did not have Harry’s mobile number, adding he was wrongly described as Meghan’s “mouthpiece” and “cheerleader” for the couple.

He continued: “I am a member of the press trying to do my job … what I am doing today is making my life more difficult.”

Ex-Sunday Mirror reporter Dan Evans – who was described as the paper’s former “in-house hacker” – also entered the witness box on Monday.

Evans – who later joined the now-defunct News of the World, subsequently admitted phone hacking and was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence – alleged there was “endemic criminality” at both the News of the World and MGN.

He alleged that “many people” at MGN titles were involved “in what I today honestly believe to be one of the longest and most developed corporate/criminal conspiracies in British history”.

In written submissions, Green previously said there was “some evidence” of third parties being instructed to carry out other forms of unlawful information-gathering, except in the case of actor Michael Turner – known professionally as Michael Le Vell.

He told the court: “Where that is so, MGN has made admissions… but for many of them, there is simply no evidence they engaged in unlawful information gathering at all.”

Evans later alleged that journalists at the Sunday Mirror would “stand up” stories from legitimate stories “by looking to hack the phones of the individuals involved, or their friends, so that we could verify the truth of the information given to us by the source”.

As well as Harry, Coronation Street actors Turner and Nikki Sanderson, and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman are named as “representative” cases for the trial.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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