Prince Harry phone hacking claim: How the Royal Family became swept up in the scandal

Phoebe Southworth
The Royal Family were first swept up in the phone hacking scandal in November 2005 - AFP

When a 21-year-old Prince Harry made a frantic phone call to his private secretary pleading for help writing an essay while he was at Sandhurst, little did he know a transcript of the voicemail he left would be broadcast to millions of people across the world eight years later.

The Duke of Sussex, who was writing about the 1980 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London as part of his Army officer training, implored former SAS Major Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton: "If you have got any extra information or websites that you knew of, please, please, please email it me or text me."

It was one of a series of voicemails left by members of the Royal Family which surfaced in 2013 during the long-running phone hacking scandal.

Another message intercepted on Prince Harry's phone was from his brother.

The Duke of Cambridge, mimicking his brother's then girlfriend Chelsy Davy, scoffed: "I just want to say I miss you so much and I think you are the best looking ginger I have ever seen - although you really are quite ugly for a ginger."

Prince William was also revealed to have pet names for his girlfriend Kate Middleton.

"Oh, my little babykins!" he cooed in one voicemail. "I can't wait to see you, lots of love," he said in another.

In one message he confided that he had been "chasing shadows and getting terribly lost" during a military exercise in Aldershot, and "nearly got shot" by blank rounds after accidentally walked into another regiment's ambush.

The Royal Family were first swept up in the phone hacking scandal in November 2005, when the now defunct News of the World published a story about Prince William having strained a tendon in his knee.

A complaint by Buckingham Palace triggered a police inquiry, which found that the snippet came from a hacked voicemail.

The News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of intercepting the voicemail messages of royal aides and jailed for four and six months respectively.

But there were more revelations to come.

Police went on to identify more than 4,000 people as possible victims of phone hacking, including politicians, celebrities and actors.

It emerged that News International, the owner of News of the World, had reached confidential settlements totalling £1m with three people who said their phones had been hacked, sparking a string of well-known people coming forward to get their claims re-examined.

The turning point came in 2011 when the Metropolitan Police launched a fresh phone hacking investigation, Operation Weeting.

Among the revelations was that voicemails had been intercepted on the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Their investigation culminated in a total of 19 conspiracy charges being brought against eight people, including News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former spin doctor.

Following an eight-month trial at the Old Bailey, which reportedly cost up to £100m, Brooks was acquitted of all charges and Coulson was jailed for 18 months.

The Daily Mirror was dragged into the phone hacking scandal in 2012, when it emerged that four people - including former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson - had lodged claims against its publisher Mirror Group Newspapers at the High Court.

Over the next four years, the publisher reportedly set aside £52.5m to pay damages and legal costs related to 250 claims. 

In 2018, actor Hugh Grant received a six-figure sum to settle a phone hacking damages claim against the publisher, which he donated to campaign group Hacked Off.

The Sun, which has always denied involvement in phone hacking, first faced trial over the scandal in 2016.

Four claimants, including actor Les Dennis, alleged that 40 articles printed in the tabloid were obtained through phone hacking, including some while the paper was edited by Rebekah Brooks.