- The Sunday Mirror spied on Diana’s private itemised phone bills in the year before she was killed
- Private Investigator Christine Hart claims she directly targeted the Princess on the phone
- Front-page story was littered with suspicious references to Diana’s call-data
- Secret surveillance intruded into Princess’s relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A TOP private investigator has told how the Mirror newspaper group paid her to personally target Diana, Princess of Wales, in an elaborate surveillance sting, Byline Investigates can reveal.
PI Christine Hart says she later felt ‘disgusted’ by the way she tricked the Princess – at a particularly vulnerable time of her life – as part of a long-running spying operation.
She said: “I saw they did the story in the next edition. It was front page, if I remember rightly, and I felt very badly.”
Ms Hart revealed how the Sunday Mirror had already obtained private phone records between heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and what the paper believed was Diana from a different source before it asked her to try and prove its story.
She added: “The Sunday Mirror asked if I could check it was Diana’s number, although they didn’t tell me what the story was.
“I called the number and a very classy, softly spoken woman picked up. It sounded like it was in a bedroom; it was really, really quiet.”
In an extraordinarily open interview with journalist and author, James Hanning, Ms Hart explained the methodology behind her unusual work.
Sources close to legal cases against MGN say the Sunday Mirror paid another firm of private investigators – with no links to Ms Hart – to illegally obtain copies of Mr Khan’s landline billing.
Revealing how she introduced herself as ‘Louise Reynolds from the reception’ of Diana’s favourite gym, the Chelsea Harbour Club, Ms Hart said: “I said, ‘you remember we met that time…’ and she (Diana) said, ‘no,’ she didn’t.
“I kept calling her ‘Diana’ and told her someone has handed in a gold diamante watch, and we believe it might be yours.
“I described it, and said it was a bit like a Chanel design, but not actually Chanel and she said ‘no,’ that wouldn’t be hers.
“She then joked that if it was real, she might claim it.”
Estimating that she kept the Princess talking for about seven minutes, in order to prove beyond doubt what the Sunday Mirror’s editors were desperate to know, she went on: “I was just listening, to make sure was sure it was her, and that was that. I found her very lovely.
“I saw they did the story in the next edition. It was front page, if I remember rightly, and I felt very badly.”
The following day – January 28, 1996 – the Sunday Mirror did indeed publish a front page “splash” story containing references to phone calls between Diana and Mr Khan.
In one section it discussed technical details of Mr Khan’s British Telecom account, including the fact he had changed an ex-directory number after receiving “nuisance” calls “morning, noon, and night”.
The article went on to chronicle the pair’s movements together, describing in close detail – right down to the individual dishes they ordered – a series of meals they had enjoyed in Stratford-upon-Avon; a location ironically chosen as an escape from tabloid scrutiny in London.
In another section, the story says of the couple: “Their friendship is becoming the talk of the hospital. They speak on the phone regularly and they meet often.”
The Sunday Mirror ran a series of articles during this period of coverage of Diana’s relationship with Mr Khan that make references to their private telephone data.
One unsourced story dated November 10, 1996, and attributed to the Sunday Mirror’s ‘house’ byline – fictitious reporter ‘James Harper’ – was even headlined: ‘Diana’s Heart-to-Heart Calls; Princess Diana Makes Secret Phone Calls to New Love’.
Byline Investigates understands the articles are likely to form part of the upcoming phone hacking case Prince Harry – who was just 12 at the time they were published – has filed against publishers Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).
We further understand the couple may have been targeted since as early as summer 1995, shortly after the Princess met the Pakistani-born chest and lung consultant at his place of work, the Royal Brompton Hospital, while she visited a sick friend.
In a landmark legal judgment against MGN in 2015, Britain’s top privacy judge Mr Justice Mann recorded how the paper group routinely used stolen telephone billing data to unlawfully source and prove stories about many of its targets.
Privacy lawyer, Jonathan Coad, of Keystone Law, said: “The timing of this story is extraordinary, given the Duke has moved to protect his wife from tabloid intrusion in a way that he could not protect his mother.”
The 35-year-old Duke has spoken recently of his enduring trauma over the Press intrusion that led to Diana’s death in a Paris underpass in August 1997, when the car she was travelling in crashed while being chased by paparazzi photographers on motorbikes.
In a candid interview earlier this month with ITV anchorman Tom Bradby, the Duke said: “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”
Now, the Duke’s team at London law firm Clintons LLP, will be examining whether the Sunday Mirror was paying private investigators to monitor Diana’s private phone.
Obtaining phone bills by deception, or to deceive the subscriber by ‘pretext’ blagging, has been a criminal offence since 1995.
Buckingham Palace has let it be known that Prince Harry, Diana’s youngest son, is keen to know more of how his mother’s privacy was breached.
Ms Hart worked for a number of newspapers in the 1990s and early 2000s, including ten years for the Daily Mail.
She was once described by Rebekah Brooks while she was editor of The Sun, as “one of the paper’s most valuable contacts,” and later wrote a book about the phone hacking scandal.
Ms Brooks herself was later charged with phone hacking offences but acquitted at the Old Bailey in 2014.
- Ms Hart has written a book about the hacking scandal. She now runs her own company, Mara Intelligence Ltd.
- James Hanning is former Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday, who has been investigating the phone hacking scandal for a decade. He is author of the The News Machine: Hacking The untold Story.