- 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
- IN PART 2, we reported the response of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who condemned The Sun’s predatory practices
- IN PART 3, Byline Investigates raised questions about how The Sun got its information about private communication between two private individuals
- IN PART 4, we revealed how The Sun published a story about texts sent by Prince Harry to Meghan Markle
- IN PART 5, we explain how The Sun’s ‘text bombardment’ story came about
THE SUNDAY EXPRESS tabloid first broke the story of Prince Harry’s new girlfriend on 30th October 2016.
The Prince’s new relationship was big news on Fleet Street, setting off The Sun’s US Editor James Beal on a hunt for a follow-up, to make-up for the shame of a rival paper getting the scoop.
The pressure was on to catch-up, because The Sun prides itself on breaking exclusives, and not missing them.
LA-based Private Investigator Danno Hanks was immediately contacted by James Beal, 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.
Hanks believes that The Sun knew – or ought to 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.
Hanks has given a sworn statement as to his belief, but there is no proof of his allegation.
And News Group Newspapers – the News UK subsidiary which publishes The Sun – have firmly denied any knowledge of Hanks’ unlawful activity at any stage.
Hanks’ dossier also included Meghan Markle’s mobile phone number, a key piece of private information, especially for a reporter chasing a story.
Portrayed as an exclusive, the piece was co-written by The Sun’s then London-based Royal Correspondent Emily Andrews, with a second byline going to US Editor 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 is considered suspicious by lawyers acting for claimants suing News Group Newspapers.
Hundreds of similar stories, published between 1996 and 2011 when phone hacking and blagging was rife, have been put before the High Court and claimants have received millions in compensation for the harm they have suffered.
But what makes the article about Harry’s texts so special is that it’s a lot more recent, and took place when NGN had stopped carrying-out illegal activity.
Lawyers suing the rival Mirror Group, also for phone-hacking, blagging personal data and intrusive surveillance, think these kind of stories are very dodgy, too.
In the same context, these lawyers are 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 privacy cases, in which victims have sued for damages and an apology.
There is no documentary 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.
A month ago, former Sun reporter Emily Andrews (who went on to be the Royal Editor for the Mail on Sunday) told Byline Investigates: ‘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 Ms Andrews or The Sun of phone hacking in this case, 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 – the Murdoch-owned subsidiary called News Group Newspapers – over stories which contain similar suspicious characteristics for the ‘pre-Leveson’ period of 1995-2011.
However, the Duke has also condemned these more recent intrusions in 2016 and described the tactics as ‘predatory.’
The Sun newspaper has asked been asked for comment.