Prince Harry and Meghan in 'near catastrophic car chase' with paparazzi in New York

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex left a gala in New York on Tuesday through a back entrance - MEGA
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex left a gala in New York on Tuesday through a back entrance - MEGA

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex claimed on Wednesday that they were involved in a “near catastrophic car chase” involving paparazzi photographers.

The couple, accompanied by Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, had just left an award ceremony in New York on Tuesday night when they said they were subjected to a two-hour “relentless pursuit” by a “gang” of at least six paparazzi in blacked-out vehicles.

But New York City authorities played down the severity of the incident, saying that although photographers had made the Sussexes’ journey “challenging” there had been “no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests”.

Eric Adams, New York’s mayor, said: "I would find it hard to believe there was a two-hour high speed chase.”

Three separate law enforcement officials also told US network NBC News that they would not describe it as a chase. Meanwhile, a taxi driver who picked the Duke and Duchess of Sussex up at the height of the incident suggested it had “not been a chase” and that no one was in danger.

The pursuit lasted more than two hours and resulted in several incidents in which there were nearly collisions, according to the Duke and Duchess. A source close to the couple said they had been forced to seek refuge in a police station on three separate occasions as they sought to shake off the photographers.

At one point, in a failed attempt to create a decoy, they swapped their own SUV for a yellow taxi. But they were swiftly identified and the resulting pictures and video later posted online - the vehicle lit up with continuous camera flashes.

The Duchess can be seen wedged between the Duke and her mother in the back seat as Harry appears to use his mobile phone to film the photographers.

It is understood that the trio were staying at a friend’s house but felt unable to return as they were being followed. They eventually made it back at 12.30am after “waiting it out” long enough to lose the paparazzi.

The incident comes as Prince Harry fights a government decision not to allow him and his family automatic police protection when they are in the UK.

He has launched applications for two separate judicial reviews of the decision but was warned at a hearing this week that specialist protection officers could not be bought as “private bodyguards for the wealthy”.

The Duke has also repeatedly expressed his concern about “history repeating itself” after his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car accident while being chased by paparazzi in Paris in 1997.

In a lengthy statement released shortly after 3pm (10am in New York) on Wednesday, a spokesman for Prince Harry and Meghan said: “Last night, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.

“This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers. While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone’s safety.

“Dissemination of these images, given the ways in which they were obtained, encourages a highly intrusive practice that is dangerous to all involved.”

Harry and Meghan leaving the ceremony on Tuesday night - Anadolu
Harry and Meghan leaving the ceremony on Tuesday night - Anadolu

Meanwhile, a member of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s security team gave his own account to CNN. In an unusual move, Chris Sanchez identified himself and said: “I have never seen, experienced anything like this. What we were dealing with was very chaotic. There were about a dozen vehicles: cars, scooters and bicycles.

“The public were in jeopardy at several points. It could have been fatal. They were jumping curbs and red lights. At one point they blocked the limousine [carrying the couple] and started taking pictures until we were able to get out."

Mr Sanchez said he “was concerned about the principals [the Duke and Duchess of Sussex] but more about the public because they [the paparazzi] were being so erratic."

He added: "People were on sidewalks and crossing streets and the [paparazzi] were crossing red lights. We did everything by the letter of law.”

Prince Harry, Meghan and her mother Doria Ragland earlier on Tuesday attending the Women of Vision Awards - Kevin Mazur
Prince Harry, Meghan and her mother Doria Ragland earlier on Tuesday attending the Women of Vision Awards - Kevin Mazur

Speaking at a press conference the day after the incident, Mr Adams raised the circumstances of the death of the Duke's mother.

He said: "I don't think there are many of us who don't recall how his mum died. It would be horrific to lose an innocent bystander in something like this and for something to happen to [the Duke and Duchess] as well.”

However, he suggested that the unfolding incident may not have been quite as dramatic as implied - while he admitted that two of his officers “could have been” injured.

"We have to be extremely responsible,” he said. “I thought that was a bit reckless and irresponsible. I would find it hard to believe there was a two-hour high speed chase… but we will find out the exact duration.

"A ten-minute chase is extremely dangerous. We have a lot of traffic, movement, a lot of people use our streets. Anything that involves a chase is inappropriate.”

Mr Adams added: "It's clear that the press paparazzis want to get the right shot and the right story but public safety must always be at the forefront."

'No reported collisions'

Julian Phillips, a deputy commissioner at the NYPD, told The Telegraph that the police department had assisted the private security team protecting the Duke and Duchess.

He said: “There were numerous photographers that made their transport challenging. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard.”

The couple's taxi driver Sukhcharn Shingh told The Washington Post: "I don't think I would call it a chase. I never felt like I was in danger. It wasn't like a car chase in a movie. They were quiet and seemed scared but it's New York - it's safe."

The couple and Ms Ragland had spent the evening at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in Midtown, where Meghan had accepted a Women of Vision award celebrating feminist champions.

During her speech she told those present: “You can be the visionary of your own life."

It was the couple’s first public appearance together since the Coronation and there was intense interest in the event, with numerous photographers lining up outside the venue to capture pictures of the Duchess in a gold Johanna Ortiz dress.

The group left the gala at around 10pm and were photographed as they made their way from the exit to one of two waiting SUVs. A bystander shouted “Meghan, we love you”

A bodyguard got into the front of their vehicle, and others followed behind. The ballroom is five blocks south of Central Park, between 6th and 7th Avenues.

Accompanied by members of their private protection team, they had expected to head straight back to their friend’s house on the Upper East Side but are understood to have felt they were immediately tailed by a “gang” of around a dozen paparazzi on motorcycles, scooters and in vehicles.

In order to try and lose them, they are said to have been driven across 57th St and other streets for around 75 minutes, escorted at all times by an NYPD police car.

Their driver attempted various attempts to use decoys, to divert the photographers or to shake them off, including one in which sources said police officers were almost run over, prompting them to attend the police station.

Those involved are understood to have been confronted by uniformed police on multiple occasions but continued the pursuit.

The images appeared overnight on MailOnline but were later taken down. The Duke has two outstanding legal actions against the website’s publisher, Associated News Limited; one over allegations concerning phone hacking and other unlawful information gathering and the other concerning a Mail on Sunday story about his case against the Home Office.

In a video posted by the celebrity news website TMZ, the Duke and Duchess could be seen in a yellow Toyota taxi with a bodyguard in the front passenger seat, as several photographers took photos with flashes going off constantly.

Harry was in the rear left passenger seat, filming everything on his mobile phone.

'Started with 12, ended with four'

The taxi driver who picked up the Sussexes and Ms Ragland outside the 19 precinct police station in Manhattan, at around 11pm, said they were in his car for around 10 minutes.

Sukhcharn Singh, 37, said their couple’s security guard waved him down and asked: “Do you want a fare?” He said he drove the group a block and a half west to Park Avenue before heading south.

“They had this look on their faces,” Mr Singh said. “All of a sudden paparazzi came out and started taking pictures."

One source told the New York Post: “It started off with 12 paparazzi then ended up with four."

Mr Singh told the BBC suggestions of a "near catastrophic chase" might have been exaggerated. He said he did not think the paparazzi were being "aggressive".

"New York is the safest place to be - there's police stations, cops on every corner," he said. "[The paparazzi] were behind us... they kept their distance."

New York City cab driver Sukhcharn Singh with his taxi in Queens - AP
New York City cab driver Sukhcharn Singh with his taxi in Queens - AP

Meghan and Harry gave Mr Singh a $33 tip for the $17 fare for the short ride, he said.

“They didn’t say much,” Mr Singh told Associated Press. “They just asked my name and then after that Harry said thanks and have a good day.

"It was pretty good, man. They gave me a $50. I mean, when I’m going around the block that’s more than enough."

Speaking from their home in Queens, his wife Maninder Kaur, 36, told The Telegraph: “He said they suddenly got in his taxi and just a few minutes after, they left. He knew he was the Prince but he didn’t know anything about what happened. A garbage truck came in front of them so they left the taxi. They left his taxi and paid his fare and then went.

She added: “We’re proud. He’s very happy too to have been on the TV.”

She said their children, aged 14 and 11, came back from school excited about their father’s moment in the spotlight.

His mother Joginder Kaur, 67, added: “I’m so proud. He’s such a good boy.”

The incident was said to have been particularly shocking for Meghan's mother Ms Ragland, who was left “terrified” by the ordeal, one source said. The Duke and Duchess are understood to have been “shaken” and “exhausted” but thankful that everyone was safe.

Many members of the Sussexes’ team were up all night as they digested the evening’s events and were said to have been left “terrified” by the experience. Police are understood to be involved in trying to identify the photographers involved.

Bruce Cotler, the president of the New York Press Photographers Association, said the way photographers allegedly acted violated the basic photojournalism principle of covering news “as documentarians and observers” and the code of ethics to which his members and “any press photographer with respect for themselves and the profession” are expected to adhere.

The incident comes after an alleged stalker was arrested outside the Sussex's California mansion in the early hours of Monday morning.