Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan took a “genuine interest” in royal stories and would occasionally “inject” information into articles at the newspaper, the High Court has heard.
The paper’s former royal correspondent and later assistant news editor Jane Kerr answered questions about Mr Morgan‘s involvement in stories during the second day of her evidence to the lawsuit brought by Prince Harry against publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).
She was also asked about specific stories containing private information, such as medical details and a conversation between Harry and Prince William, at a time when the brothers were supposed to be “off limits” due to their age.
The duke’s civil claim is being heard alongside three other representative claims, the second of which, for Hollyoaks and former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson, began later on Thursday afternoon.
Lawyer David Sherborne, who is representing Prince Harry, Ms Sanderson, and other claimants, told the court how the actress believed her ex-boyfriend had sold a story about their break-up, and that in another story, the Sunday Mirror “wrongly suggested” she had cheated on him with a Manchester United player.
A story published about her “love rat” father was also “splashed over the papers”, Mr Sherborne told the court, before reading out part of Ms Sanderson’s witness statement, in which she wrote: “This isn’t celebrity gossip – it’s my life.”
The actress is expected to begin giving evidence tomorrow.
Earlier in the day, when questioning Ms Kerr, Mr Sherborne argued information in several of her stories about Prince Harry could only have been obtained through phone hacking or unlawful means.
MGN denies this.
Another difficult day for former royal editor – who seemed nervous and almost shaky
It was another tricky day of cross-examination for Jane Kerr, who was asked about articles she wrote while royal correspondent at the Daily Mirror.
Her byline appears on nearly a third of the stories being scrutinised in Prince Harry’s claim.
She engaged agencies and private investigators on a regular basis but denied this was for illegal information.
We heard there was an agreement that Prince William and Prince Harry were “strictly off limits” for the press after the death of their mother.
Ms Kerr said an article she wrote at the time, about Prince Harry having glandular fever, was only after other newspapers had reported this.
And as for private chats between Chelsy Davy and Harry ending up in her articles, she said “I don’t know” when asked how she found out about the calls.
Harry, in his testimony, claimed this was suspicious, but his barrister went further, saying voicemail interception was “obvious”.
Another article following allegations Harry had taken drugs reported the King’s private feelings – this is information which it’s claimed can only have been the product of illegal activity.
Ms Kerr appeared nervous and almost shaky during cross-examination. She says it happened a long time ago, and vehemently denies phone hacking, witnessing phone hacking or knowingly employing anyone who was carrying it out.
And her mention of Piers Morgan was also revealing: how he “injected information” on occasions into her stories; how he was “genuinely interested” in royal articles. And how he didn’t always explain where he’d got his information from.
For some, her evidence will be a crucial part of Harry’s claim.
Ms Kerr’s byline appears on 10 of the 33 stories written about the Duke of Sussex, between 1996 and 2010, which have been submitted to the court for this case.
In a witness statement, she said she would routinely call palace press offices for confirmation or information on stories, and that Mr Morgan, who was editor from 1995 to 2004, “also engaged” with the press offices and would “occasionally direct or inject information” into a story.
He took a “genuine interest” in royal stories, she said.
In court, Mr Sherborne asked Ms Kerr whether or not she would have known how any information from the then editor was obtained.
She said she would not have known the means unless he had specifically told her.
It was “really hard” to say without having a specific example, she told the court, but added that Mr Morgan would sometimes refer to having spoken to somebody at one of the palaces.
“If he said he’d got a tip or information, you would’ve included it, wouldn’t you?” Mr Sherborne asked.
Ms Kerr confirmed she likely would have done. She said that while she could not remember any specific occasions, she might have included such details from Mr Morgan even without knowing where they had come from.
William and Harry details ‘pretty suspicious’, Harry’s lawyer tells court
Mr Sherborne then questioned Ms Kerr on a number of stories she wrote. She repeatedly told him she could not remember specific details due to the length of time that has passed since they were written.
Asked about stories on Harry’s alleged drug taking, published in 2002, she denied ever hacking voicemails to obtain details.
It is “pretty suspicious” that quotes from what was apparently a private conversation between Harry and William were included in one story, Mr Sherborne said.
Ms Kerr said she was not sure where the information came from but that at the time she would have felt confident they were from a verified source who “was in a position to know”.
Moving on to another article, headlined “Harry’s sick with ‘kissing disease’,” about the then young prince contracting glandular fever in 2002, Mr Sherborne asked how she obtained information about his school friends teasing him about the matter.
Would the palace have “tossed it to you as a little morsel to add colour to your story”, he asked sarcastically.
Ms Kerr described the detail as a “throw-away line”.
‘I never witnessed it’
Throughout her evidence, she repeatedly stressed she has never acted unlawfully, instructed anyone else to act unlawfully, or had any knowledge of anyone acting unlawfully, in relation to gathering information for stories. “I have never seen anyone intercept a call,” she told the court. “I had no reason to think it, I never witnessed it.”
Ms Kerr also said she personally had never intercepted a voicemail “and wouldn’t even know how”.
Harry, 38, is suing MGN for damages, claiming journalists at its titles – which also include the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators for unlawful activities.
He alleges that about 140 articles published between 1996 and 2010 by MGN titles contained information gathered using unlawful methods, and 33 have been selected to be considered at the trial.
The duke gave his evidence to the court on Tuesday and Wednesday, answering questions about stories that including details and claims about his private life.
His civil claim is being heard alongside Ms Sanderson’s and two other claims – representative of more than 100 claims in total – during a trial which began in May and is due to last six to seven weeks.
The other representative claimants are Michael Turner – known professionally as Michael Le Vell, best known for playing Kevin Webster in Coronation Street – and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.