Harry and Meghan Blast The Sun’s ‘Predatory’ Practices – After PI Dossier Led To a String of Damaging Stories

  • PRINCE HARRY and Meghan Markle have responded to our exclusive story
  • BYLINE INVESTIGATES understands ‘that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex find these matters concerning.’
  • THE SUN published an article making claims about Prince Harry’s texting Meghan Markle – just days after obtaining her mobile number from a US Private Investigator.
  • THE STORY contains a reference to secret text message ‘traffic’ between the couple, and is sourced to an anonymous ‘friend.’
  • THESE ARE considered hallmarks of unlawful information gathering, according to High Court ‘phone hacking’ cases, in which newspapers are alleged to have illegally obtained itemised phone bills.
  • HOWEVER The Sun denies doing anything unlawful in relation to Meghan’s phone number, or her phone bills. There is no suggestion that any voicemails were intercepted.
  • THE MURDOCH tabloid also ran string of articles showing that the paper had contacted Markle’s family members, whose phone numbers and addresses the PI had included in his dossier.
  • IN PART 1 of this special investigation, we revealed how LA-based PI Dan ‘Danno’ Hanks was commissioned by The Sun to spy on the Markle family.
  • HE HAS now apologised to the Duchess of Sussex – and to The Queen – for his role in helping The Sun sew mistrust in the Royal Family.

By Graham Johnson

Editor, Byline Investigates

THE DUKE and Duchess of Sussex have ripped into The Sun for hiring a PI to prey on them.

The couple responded after Byline Investigates exposed the Murdoch paper for paying a private investigator to target Meghan Markle in 2016.

The revelation comes five years after the phone-hacking scandal was supposed to have put pay to shadowy newsgathering practices.

And, significantly, the crimes were committed on US soil.

In a statement – first given to the BBC, which shared our exclusive on BBC One’s Six O’Clock news bulletin – a spokesperson for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle said:

‘The Duke and Duchess of Sussex feel that today is an important moment of reflection for the media industry and society at large, as this investigative report shows that the predatory practices of days past are still ongoing, reaping irreversible damage for families and relationships.

‘They are grateful to those working in media who stand for upholding the values of journalism, which are needed now more than ever before.’

However, today we can unveil further suspicions of wrongdoing.

Two days after the private investigator obtained Meghan Markle’s private mobile number, The Sun published a story about texts messages received by her from Prince Harry.

The official reponse from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex

The Sun denies doing anything unlawful.

In Part 1 of this special investigation, we revealed how the The Sun’s US Editor James Beal tasked Los Angeles PI Dan ‘Danno’ Hanks to target Meghan Markle – which the detective went on to do unlawfully.

The Sun‘s tasking came after the Sunday Express rival tabloid broke the story of Prince Harry’s new girlfriend on 30th October 2016, setting-off Beal on his hunt for a follow-up.

Hanks was immediately contacted by The Sun, producing a same-day 90-page report, packed with private data, which he obtained by deception.

Though The Sun paid for the information, they deny knowing about Hanks’ illegal methods, and deny asking him to break the law.

While Hanks asserts that The Sun must have known how he was producing the data – not least because the paper had been paying him for many years for his services using the same methods – there is no concrete evidence to prove this.

The Sun ran its first ever story about Meghan and Harry the following day.

But Hanks’ dossier also included Meghan Markle’s mobile phone number, a key piece of private information, especially for a reporter chasing a story.

The Sun then ran a follow-up story two days later, which contained references to mobile phone text ‘traffic’ from Prince Harry to Meghan.

The article was trailed on the front page, and the headline on the double page-spread inside, was: ‘Smitten Harry bombarded Meghan with texts until he got date.’

Portrayed as an exclusive, the piece was co-written by The Sun’s London-based Royal Correspondent Emily Andrews, with a second byline going to James Beal – who had commissioned of the PI’s report.

The Sun story on November 1st, 2016 went on to reveal how Prince Harry had allegedly ‘inundated’ Meghan ‘with texts until she agreed to go out with him after meeting via a mutual friend in May’ earlier that year.

Quoting an unnamed ‘pal’, an anonymous source said that he had ‘besieged her with texts until she agreed to a date’.

Mentioning the volume – or time and date of text messages – in a story, along with quoting unnamed sources are considered suspicious by lawyers.

In the same context, lawyers also dubious about quotes attributed to anonymous ‘pals’ or ‘friends.’

Legal experts claim, that this combination of references, is a classic sign of unlawful information gathering in ‘phone hacking’ cases in which victims sue for compensation.

There is no suggestion that any voicemails were intercepted, and there is no concrete evidence that anyone at The Sun illegally obtained Harry or Meghan’s itemised phone bill, or paid someone else to do so.

However, the nature of the story raises questions about the provenance of the claim that Harry sent multiple texts to Meghan before their first date.

The story also brings into question how The Sun was able to report these story lines with a high-degree of confidence.

Hanks has admitted that he used to obtain itemised phone bills for tabloid newspapers in the past, but claims that he stopped years ago and didn’t do it on this occasion.

Earlier today, former Sun reporter Emily Andrews told Byline Investigates that she had never heard of Danno Hanks before. 

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 continued: ‘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.’ 

Prince Harry is already suing the publisher of The Sun and the News of the World – a Murdoch-owned subsidiary called News Group Newspapers – over stories which contain similar suspicious characteristics for the ‘pre-Leveson’ period of 1995-2011.

However, Byline Investigates understands that the Duke is said to be similarly concerned about these more recent intrusions in 2016.

Following on from the story about texts, there was another article published in The Sun on November 2nd, 2016, again written by James Beal and Emily Andrews, along with US-based reporter Hugo Daniel.

The news copy exclusively quoted Meghan Markle’s estranged half-sister, Samantha, who criticised her in the piece.

Samantha Markle’s name appears in Hanks’ October Dossier, and was also one of his targets.

On November 3rd and 4th there are further stories, again trailed on the front-page.

One of these, again by Emily Andrews, quotes Megan’s half-brother Thomas Markle, who was also listed in the October dossier, and the subject of a separate specific PI report.

On the strength of her story-getting at The Sun, Emily Andrews recently landed the plum job of Royal Editor at the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

Remittance advice to Dank Hanks from News UK

One week after obtaining the October dossier, on 6th November 2016, an article in the Sun on Sunday – then edited by Victoria Newton – revealed James Beal had spoken to another family member mentioned in the ‘comprehensive report.’

Meghan Markle’s half-nephew Tyler Dooley, was the focus of an exclusive double-page spread, also trailed on the front page.

On November 16th, 2016, Hanks emailed James Beal an invoice, which was addressed to his company’s new head office near The Shard, in London.

Byline Investigates has obtained a copy of Hanks’ invoice for the payment that he received from The Sun.

He billed for payments of $170 each for reports on Thomas Markle Senior and Junior.

He charged the same amount for reports on the Duchess’ ex-boyfriend, her ex-mother-in-law, two PR executives connected to her and for relatives Thomas Dooley and Tyler Dooley.

Hanks invoiced $250 each for illegally-obtained ‘comprehensive’ reports on her ex-husband, an alleged ex-boyfriend and Meghan Markle herself.

The total bill was just over $2,000 – for half-a-day’s work, involving some criminal activity.

The invoice contained a standard disclaimer falsely stating the work had been carried out legally.

Hanks says he was told by his UK tabloid customers, after the Leveson Inquiry, to put this on his invoices, as a means of making his work look more legitimate.

He has signed a sworn affidavit stating that this was a charade, and he is confident that his newspaper customers must have known that his methods were always unlawful and did not change after 2011.

The Sun denies this.

A remittance advice from News UK was raised three weeks later on November 29th 2016, also seen by Byline Investigates, confirms that the money for the three $250 reports had been paid into Hanks’ account.

Once Meghan’s father Thomas Markle was tracked down by the British tabloids, he was subjected to intense scrutiny.

The Sun went on to publish hundreds of stories about him, about his son Thomas Junior, and the other targets of Hanks’ searches.

Lured with offers of big-money, the retired lighting director eventually sold his story – along with ‘stunted-up’ paparazzi photos.

The coverage left Meghan feeling betrayed, as revealed to Oprah Winfrey in her big TV interview.

Harry and Meghan’s appearance on Oprah. (CBS)

Speaking for the first time under his own name, Hanks told Byline Investigates:

‘During that period, when I tracked down Thomas Markle for The Sun, I didn’t realise what the tabloids were going to do him.

‘I didn’t realise they were going to ruin his life, and as a consequence, his daughter’s.

‘I had no idea that The Sun wanted to create a scandal of it.

‘It was early in Meghan’s relationship with Prince Harry – I did not ask the motives behind the tracing and surveillance of every “mark” the tabloids tasked me with.

‘I didn’t know what the consequences would be.

‘Which was that Mr Markle would start selling stories about his daughter, and that Meghan would feel betrayed.

‘I apologise to Meghan Markle for that.

‘I never wanted to cause Meghan Markle harm.’

The Sun newspaper has asked been asked for comment.

The Dodgy Reasons Why Reporters Use Anonymous Quotes

Media lawyers have long argued in the High Court, that using unattributed quotes is no more than a cover to enable journalists to insert illegally-obtained information into news copy.

In other words, the true illegal source of the information – such as phone billing data – has to be ‘washed.’

The easiest way to do this, the lawyers claim, is to ascribe the story line, or new revelation, to a non-existent seemingly ‘confidential’ source.

The source, in the case of The Sun’s Prince Harry ‘texting’ story, ostensibly appears to be close enough to the couple to know about the texts sent or received, and also the frequency of Prince Harry’s messages before their first date.

But the ‘source’ is clearly not close enough to either party to tell The Sun when they first met, because whoever or whatever they are, they got this fact wrong.

For example, the article claimed that Prince Harry and Meghan met via a mutual friend in May 2016, which wasn’t true.

This error makes it less likely that the real ‘friend’ actually existed.

Before publishing a prominent story such as this, the news desk – or, on a story like this, the Editor – would need to know that the story was true, and would need to know the real source.

In High Court legal claims about phone hacking, and itemised phone bill blagging, the sourcing of voicemail messages – or call or text ‘traffic’ – to an unnamed ‘pal’ or ‘friend’ has been frequently used by victims to back-up allegations of illegal activity.

Press reform campaigner Emma Jones – who is a former Sun reporter and columnist but is now a director of the press reform Campaign, Hacked Off – said that anonymised quotes are either made-up to create a story out of thin air, or used to insert illegally-obtained information into a story.

Jones told Byline Investigates said: ‘Using unattributed quotes is a common method for inserting information into a story.

‘The quotes do not actually come from a real source, but are fabricated by the journalist.

‘It’s done to authenticate the story.

‘You can spot a spoofed-up quote, because they tend to say “a pal said”, or “a friend said” or “a well placed source said.”

‘Alternatively, the newspaper have hacked a voicemail – which I understand is not being suggested in this case – or blagged a phone bill, and needs to disguise the true, illegal, source.

‘So, the “contraband” facts can be “washed” by attributing them to an unnamed friend instead of unlawful newsgathering techniques, like obtaining an itemsied bill.

‘It is remarkable, but perhaps not a surprise, that it has been alleged that The Sun are still unlawfully obtaining information five years after the Leveson Inquiry – and 20 years after I left. This is why the government were so wrong to end the Inquiry half-way through.’

Press Reform group Hacked Off have called on The Sun to apologise to Meghan Markle.

The lobby group also called for the reinstatement of Leveson 2 – the final instalment of the public inquiry into press ethics – that was cancelled by the government.

Nathan Sparkes, Hacked Off Policy Director, told Byline Investigates:

‘It would not be surprising to anyone who has followed the phone hacking litigation to learn that a national newspaper is continuing to profit from criminal news-gathering activities. The Government’s cancellation of the Public Inquiry into illegal press wrongdoing, Leveson Part Two, has allowed national newspaper companies to escape all accountability for the illegality which has been occurring on their watch.

The Sun should apologise to Meghan Markle, the Queen, and the rest of the Royal family as the private investigator Dan Hanks has done.

‘For too long the Government has cravenly adapted its policy on the media to meet the interests of the publishers of big newspapers like The Sun, to the detriment of the public, ordinary victims of press abuse and now the Royal family. The Government must now stand up to the press, govern in the interests of the public, and immediately commission Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry.’

More follows

More articles filed under Meghan Markle

Sunak government springs a surprise by turning a ‘setback for Prince Harry’ into a setback for the Daily Mail

Brian Cathcart

Prince Harry and the press: some missing context

Brian Cathcart

The truth about Meghan Markle

Julian Petley