- THE MURDOCH red-top tasked the American PI to mine a huge amount of private information on Meghan Markle, her parents, other family members, her ex-husband and business associates.
- HE USED illegal methods, and claims The Sun must have known this.
- BUT THE SUN deny knowing they were commissioning unlawful activity, and deny knowingly using the fruits of the scam.
- IN PART ONE of our exclusive investigation here, we reveal how The Sun’s secret operation took place shortly after Meghan and Harry started dating in 2016.
- THE RESULTING tabloid frenzy eventually led to the rift between the Duchess and her troubled father.
- WE NAME The Sun’s Los Angeles’ criminal sleuth for the first time as DAN ‘DANNO’ HANKS
- NOW, he has said sorry to Meghan Markle – and The Queen – for his part in helping the tabloids to destabilise their families.
- AT THE TIME The Sun’s Editor was former Daily Mail executive Tony Gallagher, now Deputy Editor of The Times.
- THE COMPANY was being run once again by controversial CEO Rebekah Brooks.
- BROOKS HAD been dramatically reinstated to her top job, after being cleared of illegal newsgathering at the News of the World, which she said she knew nothing about.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE SUN hired a US Private Investigator to target Meghan Markle and her father Thomas.
He used illegal methods, which he says, the newspaper must have known about.
Not least, he added, because he had been carrying-out similar unlawful inquiries for The Sun, and other tabloids, for over two decades.
The Murdoch paper tasked notorious Los Angeles-based PI, Dan ‘Danno’ Hanks.
Hanks obtained the Markles’ private information by deception, including their social security numbers – a criminal offence in the US, as it is in the UK.
Six of their private phone numbers were also gotten from a protected database, including Meghan’s mobile.
Within days, The Sun had published an article quoting an anonymous ‘friend’, claiming that Prince Harry had ‘bombarded Meghan with texts’ prior to their first date.
The mention of text traffic, and anonymous sources, are often relied upon as evidence of unlawful information gathering in ongoing litigation against Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids.
The court cases, dealing with phone hacking and blagging personal data, have been working their way through the High Court for over a decade.
The fact that The Sun had Meghan’s mobile number raises questions about whether the paper gone on to use it to obtained her phone bills.
However, there is no suggestion that any voicemails were intercepted by The Sun.
Hanks also targeted Meghan’s half-brother, also called Thomas Markle, and her mother Doria Ragland.
The Sun also tried to ‘dig some dirt’ on the Duchess of Sussex, by tasking Hanks to track down her ex-husband, and two of her rumoured former boyfriends.
But it appears that they couldn’t find any scandal on the Suits’ actress, and instead used Hanks’ dossier to target distant relatives, who sniped at her success.
One was a nephew, the son of her half-brother, called Tyler Dooley who featured in Hanks’ report.
But it is not clear that Dooley had had any recent contact with Meghan Markle.
Speaking exclusively to Byline Investigates, Hanks has made a public apology to the Duchess of Sussex for breaching her family’s privacy, and enabling The Sun to fuel the Royal feud that has left deep scars.
Hanks said: ‘I’m sorry to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry for targeting her family, particularly her dad, on behalf of The Sun.
‘I never wanted to cause Meghan Markle harm, and wouldn’t have done the job if I’d have known it would lead to all these problems.
‘I also wanted to take this opportunity to apologise to The Queen, because I realise the harm of what I did for The Sun has affected the whole family.’
Byline Investigates has shared our exclusive with the BBC and the New York Times, who have also independently spoken to Hanks and checked-out his documentary evidence.
News of the relationship between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry first leaked out in the Sunday Express on 30th October 2016.
On the same day, a secret dossier was compiled by Hanks for his one of his handlers at The Sun.
The 90-page report, also dated 30th October 2016, contained email accounts and car registrations relating to Meghan, her family and associates.
Crucially, Hanks had also obtained the Social Security Numbers of the family members.
He has described Meghan’s social security number as a ‘key identifier,’ which would enable him and other PIs, to dig deeper into confidential records, potentially opening-up all the other private data held on US Government and State databases.
Hanks’ secret dossier on the Markle family was commissioned by The Sun’s US Editor James Beal based in The Sun’s New York bureau.
The report was emailed to him the same day that it was ordered.
Beal’s bosses at the time included some of the most controversial newspaper executives on Fleet Street, whose names have all been linked in the past to allegations – which have always been denied – of unlawful information gathering
The Sun’s Editor was Tony Gallagher.
The Editor of the Sun on Sunday was Victoria Newton, and the overall boss of the company was CEO Rebekah Brooks.
Byline Investigates obtained a copy of the Markle dossier from Hanks.
The retired private detective sold his archive to Byline Investigates bit-by-bit over the last 18 months.
Hanks identified Meghan Markle’s West Hollywood home address from the database, and immediately drove to her house in LA, which is less than an hour away from where he lives.
Under direct instructions from The Sun, Hanks covertly took pictures of the tree-lined property, so that the paper could commission specialist reporters and photographers to stake it out.
The routine was repeated at her father’s bungalow.
The next day, James Beal – along with paper’s then Royal Correspondent, Emily Andrews – wrote the first ever story about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry to appear in The Sun.
The exclusive contained the first fruits of Hank’s documentation, as The Sun had contacted Meghan’s niece Ashleigh Friedman, whose contact details were in the dossier, for a quote.
The main story line was an observation that, even though the couple were living thousands of miles away from each other at the time, both of them were wearing similar wristbands, indicating that they were tokens of their affection.
Earlier today, former Sun reporter Emily Andrews told Byline Investigates that she had never heard of Danno Hanks before today.
Andrews added: ‘I have never heard of Dan Hanks, nor have I ever engaged and/or tasked him.
‘I have never been party to any decision to engage and/or task him.
‘I had no knowledge of his involvement in any of the matters which you outline. To state, suggest or infer otherwise would be completely false.
Though we have not accused Andrews of phone hacking, she said: ‘Unlike Mr Johnson (The Editor of Byline Investigates and author of this story), I have categorically never been involved in, or party to, phone hacking.
‘To state, suggest or infer otherwise would be highly defamatory.’
The Editors Who Ran The Sun That Spied On Meghan Markle
The Sun’s US Editor James Beal was the journalist who commissioned the spying operation on Meghan Markle.
However, he was just a lone foreign correspondent working from a bureau in New York.
However, because of The Sun’s big budget, Beal had access to a number of freelancers, agencies and stringers – many of whom were UK ex-pat reporters.
He also had contacts for a number of Private Investigators in the US.
Back at Rupert Murdoch’s London HQ, then in Wapping, Beal’s bosses included some of the most controversial newspaper executives on Fleet Street.
Their names have been linked to allegations of ‘historic’ (1995-2011) unlawful information gathering in hundreds of cases, currently working their way through the High Court in London.
News UK always settles these before any public trial can take place.
Almost exactly one year before Beal tasked Hanks, Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand-woman, Rebekah Brooks had made a surprising return to the helm of his British newspaper business.
Brooks was cleared of any knowledge of, or participation in, the phone hacking scandal at the Old Bailey in 2014.
But by the following autumn of 2015, Rupert Murdoch re-appointed her as Chief Executive Officer of News UK.
This company was the rebranded version of News International, the UK subsidiary of News Corporation run by Murdoch himself.
News International was the publisher of the News of the World, which closed down in 2011 following the phone hacking scandal, when Brooks was CEO.
At her Old Bailey trial, Brooks denied all knowledge of phone hacking and said she had only ever used private investigators in the hunt for paedophiles, during her controversial 2000 ‘For Sarah’ campaign .
Because the ‘For Sarah’ campaign involved the naming-and-shaming of paedophiles, Brooks claimed any illegality would be justified by the public interest.
However, last year she was sued personally by two people who accused her of tasking UK PI Steve Whittamore to unlawfully gather personal information about them, with no public interest defence.
Brooks tasked Whittamore because the womens’ connections to her then fiancé Ross Kemp, when she was the Editor of the News of the World.
Brooks denied the main allegations, and the cases were settled before they reached trial.
She has also been accused multiple times in the High Court civil phone-hacking cases of being involved in illegal newsgathering and in the subsequent cover-up, all of which allegations which her company denies or does not admit.
In September 2015, almost immediately after Brooks returned, she and Murdoch installed a new Editor called Tony Gallagher at The Sun.
Gallagher had made his mark in the early and mid 2000s as News Editor, and then Assistant Editor, of the Daily Mail, before being recruited to Daily Telegraph where he rose to become its Editor in 2009.
Whilst he was the News Editor at the Daily Mail, his desk made multiple payments to Steve Whittemore’s company JJ searches and another company called ELI for illegal searches.
Gallagher was succeeded last year by the Editor of The Sun on Sunday, Victoria Newton.
Newton, a longstanding Showbiz and Features Executive at The Sun, was the Deputy Editor of the News of the World by the time it closed during the hacking scandal of July 2011.
Newton has also faced multiple allegations, in phone-hacking claims making their way through the High Court, of illegal newsgathering during her time at both Murdoch titles in the 1990s and 2000s; allegations which she and her employers vigorously deny.
She has even been linked to Hanks before, when Michael Jackson’s unlawfully obtained medical records were allegedly sent to her.
One of the Claimants, and therefore one of her accusers in the High Court action is Prince Harry himself.
What use were LA addresses of Meghan Markle and her father to The Sun, and why did the paper send Hanks to photograph both properties?
The first story that The Sun ever published about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was about wristbonds which they wore.
The exclusive suggested that the bands were tokens of affection shared by long-distance lovers.
To many readers, it might seem like an inconsequential ‘tittle-tattle’ story.
However, up-to-date paparazzi pictures of Markle wearing the wristbond in LA, whilst Harry sported his in London, would have potentially been worth a fortune and sold around the world.
It is for this reason that it is likely that The Sun sought to put a ‘watch’ on Meghan’s LA home – Fleet Street slang for staking-out a target – in the hope of getting pictures of anyone who was visiting the property, including her mother Doria Ragland.
This covert surveillance is legal but is highly intrusive on an ordinary member of the public.
It would also allow The Sun exclusive ‘snatched’ photos of Meghan Markle, in the event that she returned there suddenly from Toronto where she was filming Suits, and the chance to doorstop her or her mother.
It is common practise for newspapers to watch several properties at once, when the movements of celebrities in the news are uncertain, to cover as many variables as possible at once.
An ‘on day’ paparazzi picture of Prince Harry’s new woman publicly weaing the wristband would have been a major bonus for the story, not to mention a windfall for the department that sells and distributes pictures to other publications.