Prince Harry's key witness in phone hacking case denies targeting him

Prince Harry - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Prince Harry - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Duke of Sussex and other claimants in the case against the publisher of the Daily Mail may "have to adjust their expectations" of their key witness who appears to have contradicted his own hacking admission, a High Court judge has said.

In a written document submitted to a preliminary hearing, Gavin Burrows strongly denied being commissioned or instructed by the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday to gather information unlawfully about Prince Harry, Sir Elton John, Baroness Lawrence, Elizabeth Hurley and others.

However, in an earlier statement provided in 2021, Mr Burrows appears to have made detailed admissions that he was commissioned by the Mail on Sunday to target celebrities by hacking phones and bugging cars.

At the High Court on Wednesday, during the third day of the hearing, Adrian Beltrami KC, for the Mail’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, said that in the event of a trial, the "quality" of Mr Burrow’s evidence should be called into question.

Mr Beltrami said: “The difficulty with this statement of course is it is directly contradicted by a signed statement obtained by the defendant on March 8.”

When asked whether Mr Burrows had been asked about the apparent contradiction, Mr Beltrami replied: “He says it’s not true.”

Judge Mr Justice Nicklin responded: "There's a trial point if ever I saw one."

Mr Justice Nicklin added: "From the claimants' point of view, Mr Burrows' statement of August 2021 is fairly significant."

He added that the claimants "may have to adjust their expectations" of him in light of the contradiction.

Sadie Frost - REUTERS
Sadie Frost - REUTERS

In the first statement Mr Burrows admits targeting "a large number of private individuals" over a number of years, including the Prince and Sir Elton.

He also admitted trying to unlawfully obtain private information about Hugh Grant, Carole Middleton, and Ken Livingston.

Mr Burrows’ admissions included “illegally intercepting voicemail messages, listening into live landline calls and obtaining private information, such as itemised phone bills or medical records".

In his second statement signed last month and submitted to the High Court as evidence, Mr Burrows retracted his original admissions.

In it he made a categorical denial of the claims made by Prince Harry and the others taking action against the media group.

Mr Burrows, the founder of a private investigation firm which has worked for international companies and law firms over the last 30 years, said in the new witness statement: "I wish to make clear that I was never instructed or commissioned by anyone at the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail to conduct unlawful information gathering on their behalf."

He added: “I was also never asked to target or conduct unlawful information gathering on any of the high-profile individuals listed above by the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail.”

David Furnish - AFP
David Furnish - AFP

In a statement issued on Monday, a spokesman for Associated Newspapers said Mr Burrows "has provided a signed witness statement denying that he was commissioned or instructed by Associated to carry out any unlawful activity".

According to court documents submitted to the court by his lawyers, The Duke of Sussex said he had embarked on the case after being told Mr Burrows "admitted to targeting me".

Baroness Lawrence said she launched her case after being informed that Mr Burrows and another private investigator had recently confessed to carrying out a wide range of criminal activities on behalf of Mail newspapers.

Sir Elton, Hurley and Sadie Frost also cited Mr Burrows' admissions laid out in his first witness statement, of August 2021.

Prince Harry was not at the High Court on Wednesday morning for the third day of the hearing.

He flew to London from California at the beginning of the week to throw his weight behind the claim over alleged unlawful information gathering.

Frost appeared at the hearing on Wednesday morning while Baroness Lawrence attended the afternoon session. David Furnish, Sir Elton's husband, was present throughout.

The original statement

In Gavin Burrows' original statement of August 2021, he described at length how he and his associates had hacked the landlines and mobiles of celebrities, as well as “blagging” information and obtaining private computer records about them - all allegedly on behalf of the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail.

He stated in the 19-page document: “Overall, I can say that there probably wasn't any well-known person at the time or witness to a story that me, my company and subcontractors or team of people did not check out.

“We must have done thousands of jobs for the newspapers mentioned. The Mail on Sunday was one of my biggest and most regular clients. I always had a job on the go for them between 2000 and 2005.”

He stated: “Prince Harry was another big target. I remember putting hardwire taps on and voicemail hacking his friend Guy Pelly and doing loads on Chelsy Davy when he was with her.”

Mr Burrows also said that he had tapped Liz Hurley’s home phone and hacked her voicemail, along with carrying out “lots of financial checks, travel blagging and medicals when she was having her baby”.

Mr Burrows added: “I recently read through some Liz Hurley articles in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday and recognised some of them to have hacked product in that was done by me.”

He said the stories included a Daily Mail article about Hurley giving Sir Elton John some trees as a present after she stayed at his home in Windsor.

The private investigator had also admitted in August 2021 that he had placed a secret microphone on a window at the home of Hurley and that he had bugged her “a huge number of times”, adding: “Liz’s phones were also great for info on Elton and David”.

The second statement

Mr Burrows categorically denied his original account in a second statement, submitted to the High Court this month.

He said: “l am aware that the Particulars of Claim in these six claims allege that the Defendant instructed or commissioned me and/or my various companies . . . to conduct unlawful information gathering on the Defendant's behalf. This is false.”

In one passage, Mr Burrows said that he had only become aware of one journalist for whom he was alleged to have unlawfully obtained information this year, long after the event is said to have occurred.

He denies any targeting of the Duke of Sussex, stating: “I was not instructed or commissioned by the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail to conduct unlawful information gathering on Prince Harry or his associates.”

Mr Burrows categorically denied ever having targeted Hurley on behalf of Associated Newspapers.

In it he stated: “I was not instructed or commissioned by the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mail to conduct unlawful information gathering on Elizabeth Hurley or her associates.”

He also denied ever having used unlawful methods to gather information on Sadie Frost or her associates.