IN THE THIRD PART OF OUR DEEP INVESTIGATION INTO CRIME AND MALPRACTICE AT THE DAILY MAIL AND MAIL ON SUNDAY, BYLINE INVESTIGATES CAN TODAY TELL HOW:
- PRINCE Harry’s personal mobile phone communications were detailed in stories by top Royal Correspondent Katie Nicholl
- FRIENDSHIPS with Natalie Pinkham, Chelsy Davy, and Natalie Imbruglia came under the spotlight
- KATIE Nicholl’s articles are laden with references to private phone calls and text messages
- BOTH Nicholl and the Mail on Sunday deny knowingly using illegally-obtained data, but;
- THEIR stories contain same phrases tabloid rivals used to disguise illegal acts including hacking, according to Britain’s leading privacy judge
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
PRINCE Harry’s private phone data – including details of his text messaging habits – appeared in a nine-year series of stories by the Mail on Sunday’s former top Royal reporter Katie Nicholl, Byline Investigates can reveal.
The articles – printed between December 2002 and July 2011 – used details of the Prince’s personal phone communications in stories about TV presenter Natalie Pinkham, former partner Chelsy Davy, and singer and actress Natalie Imbruglia.
Each makes explicit references to the now 35-year-old Duke of Sussex’s phone habits, and some contain language identical to that described in a landmark Fleet Street legal judgment as code for illegal phone-hacking or “blagging” – obtaining information by deception.
They are completely separate to the legal action currently being brought by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, against the Mail on Sunday, which she alleges misused her private information and infringed her copyright by printing a personal letter she wrote to her father, as reported exclusively by this website.
Ms Nicholl and the Mail on Sunday both deny ever “knowingly” commissioning, receiving, or using, unlawfully acquired information.
A spokesman for both insisted: “Katie Nicholl’s stories came from her wide range of personal contacts, many of whom were close to the Prince and his friends.
“She has never knowingly obtained information about text messages or phone calls by any means which were not legitimate.”
But Byline Investigates believes there are grounds to suspect both may have been recipients of unlawfully obtained private information.
For, in one prominent page three article alone – published February 22, 2009 – Ms Nicholl makes no fewer than six references to the Prince’s private communications, relying on them to reveal a purportedly “close friendship” with actor and singer Natalie Imbruglia.
Under the headline “Harry’s Texts To His New Best Friend – Natalie Imbruglia”, Ms Nicholl describes in detail an allegedly burgeoning friendship between the pair, focusing on their telephone habits as well as the Prince’s attendance at a party of Ms Imbruglia’s.
Ms Nicholl, 42, wrote: “The 24-year-old Royal is said to be in frequent text contact with the Australian star”, adding: “Harry and Natalie have been in regular contact by text since the party.”
Later in the same article, Ms Nicholl discusses communications between the Prince and his former partner Chelsy Davy.
Attributing unnamed sources, Ms Nicholl wrote: “The couple have been in touch since the split but friends say Chelsy is ‘playing hard to get’.”
Ms Nicholl went on: “He has been texting Chelsy recently, telling her that she’s not the only one who’s attracting suitors and there are a lot of girls throwing themselves at him.”
The Mail on Sunday illustrated its story with a picture of the Prince “beaming happily” as he apparently checked “some very interesting messages” on his phone during an England Six Nations rugby match against Italy.
Ms Nicholl’s fascination with the mobile phone usage of Prince Harry’s social group stretches back to at least December 8, 2002, when the Mail on Sunday reported on a friendship with the British television presenter Natalie Pinkham.
The story came just three months after the Prince’s 18th birthday, as he was still debuting in public life as a ‘senior’ Royal – and as an agreement between Buckingham Palace and Fleet Street to spare him from the public glare, following the paparazzi-related death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was expiring.
Under the headline Harry’s Older Woman, Ms Nicholl offered Mail on Sunday readers a narrative through the young Prince’s private life, attributing some of its closely-observed details to unnamed “friends”.
It then added: “The Prince has bombarded the object of his affection with text messages and emails.”
Evidence introduced in two major pieces of phone hacking litigation against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday’s direct newsstand rivals, News Group Newspapers (NGN) and Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), identifies the use of such language as consistent with illegal newsgathering.
In his 2015 judgment in Gulati vs MGN – the only trial in the ongoing phone hacking litigation to progress through the UK’s civil courts to date – Britain’s top privacy judge Mr Justice Mann discussed a hacked story about an actress and her new boyfriend, published in The People newspaper.
Awarding damages of £12,500 for the article and two similar ones, Justice Mann noted: “[It] reports that he was ‘bombarding her with text messages and calls’.”
The language which the judge said identified the misuse of private information is similar to that used in some of Katie Nicholl’s stories.
In another part of his judgment, Justice Mann told how Mirror Group journalists would sometimes re-investigate hacked or blagged material using legitimate means so as to make a publishable story and said MGN deliberately concealed the origins of its illegal information by misattributing them to sources.
He added: “Information that was obtained from hacking would, if published, have its source disguised by attributing the source to a “friend” or “pal”. As will appear, this had a particularly caustic effect on the relationships of the victims.”
He went on to say that sometimes stories were embellished with on-the-record quotes and extra details.
Mr Justice Mann added: “Sometimes the detail was changed so that a victim could not work out what the source was.
“Sometimes a comment was perceived as useful, and the victim, or a PR person, would be called to see if more detail could be elicited.”
Four years after its story about the Prince and her text messages, Ms Nicholl claimed, in an article dated August 20, 2006, that Ms Pinkham had felt betrayed by friends over leaks to the papers.
Ms Pinkham – it was further noted – enjoyed a “hot line to Paddy Harverson, the Prince of Wales’s Press spokesman”, before citing an unnamed friend saying: “She and Harry texted one another regularly when she was at Nottingham.”
Mr Harverson, it later emerged, was a key target of phone hacking at rival paper the News of the World – its reporters were using a simple four-digit pin code to listen to his Royal voicemails – which closed in 2011 under the weight of the phone hacking scandal after 168 years in print.
The News of the World’s Royal Editor Clive Goodman – Ms Nicholl’s direct rival for stories at the time – and the paper’s former in-house phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for their part in their paper’s criminal surveillance of Mr Harverson, his colleagues, and employers.
The telephone habits of Chelsy Davy, with whom the Prince intermittently had a relationship between 2004 and 2010, have featured in several more of Ms Nicholl’s stories during that period.
On September 17, 2006, under the headline Harry and Chelsy’s Love At The Crossroads Ms Nicholl wrote exclusively: “I can reveal Prince Harry and Chelsy Davy are having to make some serious decisions about their future.
“The love-struck couple spent hours on the phone last week after Chelsy decided she did not want to move to the UK when she finishes her business studies degree in November.”
A further story, published November 18, 2007, again uses the language identified by Justice Mann in his Mirror Group Judgment, which named among other hackers Sunday Mirror news executive Nick Buckley – who until 2001 worked for the Mail on Sunday.
Under the headline: I’m Not Glum!; As A Lovelorn Harry Bombards Her With Texts, A Grinning Chelsy Shows That, Whatever He May Think, She Really Is Enjoying Life In Leeds, Ms Nicholl and co-author Jessica Barrett wrote: “’Chelsy has been taking Harry’s calls and he has been bombarding her with texts,’ says a friend.”
“’She has not ruled out the possibility that they will get back together but she plans to make Harry suffer a bit.’”
Coincidentally, two separate articles published the same day in rival newspapers The People and The Sunday Mirror also make references to Prince Harry’s phone data – and both look set to be cited as evidence of law-breaking in his legal action against their publishers MGN, as exclusively revealed by this website.
The editor of the Sunday Mirror at that time, Tina Weaver, went on to be hired as a star columnist herself by the Mail on Sunday, until her £250,000-a-year contract was terminated after a Byline Investigation exposed her as a phone hacking mastermind in January this year.
At the Mail on Sunday, by November 25, 2007, Ms Nicholl was again discussing the Prince and Chelsy Davy’s telephone traffic.
Under the headline: “Bubble, The Girl Helping Chelsy Get Over Harry; Prince’s Girl Rents Room in London – And May Quit Leeds”, Ms Nicholl wrote: “Since their break-up, Harry has been bombarding her with calls and texts begging for them to get back together.
“’It’s not over between her and Haz for good – if it was she would be back in South Africa,’ said a friend.
“’They are both hoping to work things out but they are doing things very privately’.”
And then, less than two months later, Ms Nicholl was writing about Royal text messages yet again.
In her gossip column on January 20, 2008, she wrote: “It seems absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
“After a wobble last month, things are once again going swimmingly for Prince Harry and his South African girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
“According to sources, the lovebirds were in constant text touch while Chelsy, 22, was holidaying with her family in Kenya.”
Ms Nicholl’s interest in Ms Davy’s telephone activity extended to periods when she and Prince Harry were no longer together, yet while the blonde Zimbabwean remained newsworthy as a result of her Royal connection.
On March 15, 2009, Ms Nicholl wrote: “Prince Harry may have been spotted leaving a nightclub with girl-about-town Astrid Harbord, 27, but it hasn’t bothered former girlfriend Chelsy Davy, who has been receiving plenty of male attention herself.
“Chelsy, who met Harry for a late-night rendezvous recently, has been in text contact with handsome socialite Sam Christey.”
Even as recently as July 24, 2011, Ms Nicholl was writing about the private communication habits of Prince Harry and his elder brother Prince William.
The ‘Royal Correspondent’ noted in her column: “Prince William and Prince Harry are now using more secure instant messages to communicate with pals rather than texting or leaving phone messages.
“They have been told the BlackBerry Messenger service is much safer because the messages are untraceable.”
Last night expert privacy lawyer Jonathan Coad told Byline Investigates: “To date Associated Newspapers has managed to seal itself against the hacking scandals that first engulfed News UK (as it now calls itself) and subsequently Mirror Group Newspapers.
“Associated Newspapers’ chief Paul Dacre said this to the Leveson Inquiry: ‘I can be as confident as any editor… that phone hacking was not practised at the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail.’
“If Paul Dacre’s denial were found to be false that would be a seismic development in the phone hacking saga.”
- Stay tuned for MailBOMB Part 4 here next Wednesday. Read MailBOMB Part 1, and Part 2.