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Prince Harry leaves US, travels to UK for court hearing

By Sarah May on
 March 31, 2023

Controversial British royal Prince Harry – also known as the Duke of Sussex – unexpectedly appeared in the U.K. this week to attend a preliminary hearing in a case against Associated Newspapers, Ltd., a matter in which he is one of seven complainants, as the New York Post reports.

Now living in Montecito, California, Harry was not required to be present for the aforementioned proceedings, and therefore his decision to make the trip caught observers – and media outlets covering the case – quite by surprise.

Harry makes surprise appearance

In the case at issue, Harry – along with a group of other high-profile celebrities – accuses Associated Newspapers, which is the publisher of the Daily Mail of phone tapping and other invasions of their privacy.

Given the preliminary nature of the hearing this week, few predicted that Harry – who has previously claimed that visits to the U.K. posed serious security risks to him and his family – would have made the trans-Atlantic journey to London's High Court.

Sky News reporter Katie Spencer was among those taken aback by Harry's presence, saying, “Absolutely nobody was expecting this because really there is no need for Prince Harry to be appearing in court this week.”

“He clearly does want to make it known that this is very important to him,” Spencer added.

Legal wrangling begins

As the Associated Press notes, Harry, along with showbusiness luminaries such as Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley, and Sadie Frost, claim that Associated Newspapers paid private investigators to bug their homes, vehicles, and telephones in contravention of the law.

Not only has the company denied those accusations, it has also contended that the dates of the alleged conduct puts the matter out of reach due to a six-year statute of limitations.

The claimants in the case cite disclosures made by private investigator Gavin Burrows in recent years in which he suggested that he was tasked by Associated Newspapers to complete “hundreds” of surveillance jobs between the years of 2000 and 2005.

However, Burrows has reportedly given a new statement to the Court in which he lays out a series of highly specific denials of the allegations made by the claimants in the case, something which has thrown a potential wrench into the case.

Burrows recants

As the Daily Mail reports, in a statement signed by Burrows this month and submitted to the Court, the private investigator said of his prior characterization of his role, “It is false. I wish to make clear that I was never instructed or commissioned by anyone at the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail to conduct unlawful information gathering on their behalf.”

The presiding judge inquired as to whether anyone had asked Burrows to account for the vastly different accounts he has given on the issue, prompting an attorney for the publishing group to reply, “My lord, he has been asked about [the first statement]. He says it's not true.”

After the judge suggested that it would therefore be a matter for trial, the lawyer replied, “In terms of credibility, one asks, can one take Mr. Burrows' first statement to trial when it is completely contradicted by the second statement?” and argued that the case should be dismissed without a trial, given that the investigator's supposed conduct was the trigger for the entire litigation.

In what could be an ominous sign for Harry and his fellow claimants, the judge cautioned that the group “may have to adjust their expectations” of the evidentiary weight of prior statements from Burrows on which they have so heavily relied.

Visa scrutiny builds

Harry's overseas travel was an arguably bold move for another reason, namely the scrutiny to which his U.S. visa status is facing in the wake of revelations of serious drug use contained in his memoir, Spare and in recent media interviews he has granted. Some have even posited that he could be denied reentry into the country, as British culinary personality Nigella Lawson once was due her own admission of drug use.

As the Daily Signal notes, the Heritage Foundation's Oversight Project recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to learn whether Harry admitted to his history of drug use prior to moving to California in the spring of 2020.

The situation raises questions about whether Harry received special treatment from the U.S. government, considering that visa applications from those with illicit drug use in their past are routinely denied.

Speculation about Harry's visa application has also taken on significance amid the ongoing “will he or won't he” discussions around his possible attendance at the coronation of his father, King Charles III, which is scheduled for early May, and precisely how that other bit of royal drama shakes out is something that remains to be seen.