A 2004 Daily Mirror article about the Duke of Sussex’s then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy was “obtained legitimately”, a former journalist and news editor has told the High Court.
Harry is one of a number of high-profile figures suing the newspaper’s publisher Mirror Group Newspapers, which also publishes the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, over alleged unlawful information-gathering at its titles.
The duke is one of four “representative” claimants whose cases have been selected for a trial, being heard over six to seven weeks in London.
MGN is contesting the claims over allegations its journalists were linked to voicemail interception, securing information through deception and hiring private investigators for unlawful activities.
MGN says board members have denied knowledge of such activities and claims there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence, of voicemail interception” in any of the four claims chosen as “representative” cases.
Mr Harwood, who has been freelance since 2015 and since 2021 has been providing journalistic support to MGN regarding the ongoing litigation, said in a witness statement that an article he wrote about Ms Davy headlined “Harry is a Chelsy fan” – one of the articles complained about by the duke – did not involve any unlawful means.
He said he was the Daily Mirror’s US editor at the time of the article and had been asked to go to Argentina to cover Harry’s holiday in November 2004.
Mr Harwood said he had a front-page “splash” which reported details of the duke’s “13-day bender” in Argentina, two days before the article about Ms Davy.
He said that splash, which is not alleged to have come from unlawful information-gathering, included the wife of a bar owner saying “Harry’s group was accompanied by a ‘mystery blonde’, but nothing more than that” and added that the paper’s night log shows he was going to spend the weekend trying to find out her identity.
He said in the statement: “As it happened, the Mail on Sunday identified the girl as Chelsy Davy and so provided me with my follow-up.
“According to the Mail on Sunday, published the day before the article, Chelsy Davy was already back in South Africa when its story appeared. It even carried a picture of her which they said was taken there.
“So, it is likely the picture in the article was taken there too, after local photographers were alerted by the Mail on Sunday story. If we had had the photo before then, we would have used it in Saturday’s paper.
“As it happened, I would have asked the freelancer to go back to the people he had spoken to for the Saturday story to try and get any more on the ‘mystery blonde’.
He added: “There were also other papers as well as Splash News, the US-based news agency, in Argentina covering the story so the quote from the nightclub goer … could have come from someone else or I could have got it myself, or (a freelancer) might have have got it.
“I just can’t remember, but I am confident that this story was obtained legitimately.”
During cross-examination by David Sherborne, representing the duke and the other claimants, Mr Harwood was asked about phone numbers for famous individuals contained in his palm pilot device.
The court heard this included former football star David Beckham, ex-England cricketer Ian Botham and retired boxer Frank Bruno.
“No, absolutely not,” Mr Harwood said.
He later added: “Most of these numbers of celebrities I never ever called. You got numbers in case you might need them, that’s why you have them.”
In his written statement, Mr Harwood said: “My Palm Pilot was not a list of intended or actual victims of phone hacking, rather it was simply a digital record of my hard copy Filofax, which contained all my contacts.”
Mr Sherborne showed Mr Harwood evidence he authorised payments to private investigator John Ross – who the barrister said was a corrupt former police officer.
This included for work relating to murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, entertainer Michael Barrymore and the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.
Mr Sherborne claimed this was “someone giving tips that plainly must have made you think that this was unlawful”.
“I had no reason to believe he was up to no good,” Mr Harwood said.
In his written statement, the journalist said that as a news editor he might have 50 to 100 payments a week to authorise in relation to contributor work.
“There was never enough time to check each payment – so I only checked those which appeared large or unusual. I did not know the details of some of the payments I approved,” he said.
Mr Sherborne also asked Mr Harwood whether he was “blind” to alleged unlawful activity or if he “just didn’t want to admit it now?”, to which he replied: “I have no knowledge of hacking or unlawful information-gathering.”
Coronation Street actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman are also named as “representative” cases for the seven-week trial.
The hearing before Mr Justice Fancourt continues.