Kate Middleton and Prince Harry had their phones hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s biggest selling newspaper, a court in London heard on Thursday.
It is the first time the Murdoch media empire has been accused of illegally accessing the phone of a member of the royal family: previous allegations have centered on the hacking of phones used by royal aides. The now-shuttered Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, is accused of accessing Middleton’s voicemails to gain embarrassing personal details about her and Prince William.
The court heard that a series of private messages that were intended to be shared only by the two young lovers have recently been unearthed as part of the police investigation. "Hi, baby. It's me," began one of the messages left by her then boyfriend, Prince William, in 2006. In another, he calls her "babykins".
In a message that was allegedly left on Harry’s phone, William, the future King of England assumed a falsetto voice and pretended to be his brother’s girlfriend Chelsy Davy. “I really miss you,” he joked. “Hopefully I'll see you very soon you big hairy fat ginger.” The jury was told by the prosecution lawyer, Anthony Edis QC, about eight voicemail messages recorded by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who has pleaded guilty to a second charge of phone hacking earlier this year.
The explosive allegations are the latest in a series of damning claims of corrupt and illegal practices that the prosecution says were endemic at the News of the World.
In prosecution evidence in mid-November, the jury at the Old Bailey were shown a note seized from Mulcaire on his arrest in 2006, entitled “target evaluation.” Eighteen names were on the list including Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, then private secretary to Prince William and Harry; Helen Asprey, another royal aide; and Mark Dyer, a royal equerry to Charles and his two sons. Recent evidence has alleged the Sunday tabloid targeted Patrick Harverson, Prince Charles’s communications secretary.
Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge are the highest profile alleged victims of phone hacking to emerge during the first two months in the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and five others.
In recent weeks the jury at the Old Bailey in Central London has heard allegations that the tentacles of Murdoch’s newspaper reached right inside Buckingham Palace. When the home of Clive Goodman, the former royal correspondent for News of the World, was raided by police in August 2006, police say they discovered 15 royal phone directories, which listed the numbers of the entire royal family, staff and close friends. The jury have since been shown several timelines of admissions or ‘agreed facts’ between defense and prosecution that show the Sunday tabloid sourced a number of its royal stories from phone hacking. In 2006, the paper accused Prince Harry of cheating in exams at the Sandhurst military academy after a message on his private secretary’s phone was allegedly intercepted.
However, palace officials were not informed of this apparent security lapse about the royal directories until Goodman’s re-arrest in the light of the phone hacking scandal in 2011. The alleged breaches heard in court on Thursday were the most serious yet.
In a transcript of one of the messages, William was quoted as saying to Middleton: “Hi, baby. Um, sorry, I’ve just got back in off my night navigation exercise,” the jury were told. "I’ve been running around the woods of Aldershot chasing shadows and getting horribly lost, and I walked into some other regiment’s ambush, which was slightly embarrassing because I nearly got shot.”
The jury were then shown emails Clive Goodman sent to his editors at the News of the World explaining how William "got shot on a night exercise." Goodman's Blackadder columns in January 2006 are alleged to have relied on the exclusive revelations that William calls Kate “babykins” and a description of the military training accident. Prosecutor Andrew Edis alleged that the stories were linked to payments of around $5000 to 'Matey'--an alias for private investigator Mulcaire.
Earlier this month the court heard that Andy Coulson, who replaced Rebekah Brooks as editor of News of the World 2003 was warned by Goodman about the risks they were taking by acquiring the phone directories, let alone using them to hack phones. “These people will not be paid in anything other than cash because if they're discovered selling stuff to us they end up on criminal charges, as could we,” Goodman allegedly wrote to Coulson, in an email read in court. Coulson, who is alleged to have been conducting an affair with Rebekah Brooks at the time, later became Prime Minister David Cameron’s head of communications at Number Ten Downing Street.
In other evidence the prosecution claims that Rebekah Brooks, during her time as editor of the best-selling British daily paper, the Sun, approved over $60,000 of payments to a former Ministry of Defence employee, Bettina Jordan-Barber, who—the prosecution alleges—was the source of several stories about the royal princes as they attended the military training academy at Sandhurst.
All seven defendants deny all the charges and the trial continues.