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The Sun paid private investigator to obtain personal information on Meghan Markle

Private detective says he used illegal methods to obtain details but tabloid’s publisher insists he was ‘instructed clearly’ not to break law

Tom Batchelor
Friday 19 March 2021 00:22 GMT
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The couple met through mutual friends in London in July 2016 and announced their engagement in November of the following year
The couple met through mutual friends in London in July 2016 and announced their engagement in November of the following year (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
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The publisher of The Sun newspaper has denied breaching privacy laws after it paid a private investigator who says he illegally obtained information on Meghan Markle in the early days of her relationship with Prince Harry.

Daniel Hanks, a private detective based in Los Angeles, claims he used unlawful means to compile a dossier on Meghan in 2016 that included her phone number, addresses and social security number.

He told the BBC: “Pretty much everything I found out they could find out themselves using legal means – with the exception of the social security numbers.

“When you have that information … it's the key to the kingdom.”

But the publisher of The Sun said “at no time” did it request the Duchess of Sussex’s social security number and said the information obtained was not used “for any unlawful practice”.

News Group Newspapers said it paid Mr Hanks $250 (£180) “to research contact details and addresses for Meghan Markle and possible relatives using legal databases which he had a license to use”.

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The company added in a statement: “Mr Hanks was not tasked to do anything illegal or breach any privacy laws – indeed he was instructed clearly in writing to act lawfully and he signed a legal undertaking that he would do so.

”The information he provided could not and did not raise any concerns that he had used illegal practices to obtain the information.

“At no time did The Sun request the social security number of Meghan Markle, nor use the information he provided for any unlawful practice.

The Sun abides by all laws and regulations and maintains strict protocols in relation to the obtaining of information from third parties. Strict compliance is in place to cover all our reporting.“

Mr Hanks, now retired, worked as a private investigator for more than 40 years gathering information on celebrities. He has been jailed four times, including in 2017 for extortion, the BBC said.

He told the broadcaster The Sun contacted him following the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and asked him to sign documents, which the BBC said it had seen, that committed him to act lawfully - an assurance he repeated when billing the newspaper for his work.

But Mr Hanks claimed he was not asked where his information was obtained, adding: “They didn’t care. They just wanted the information.”

Mr Hanks disclosed details about his investigation after being approached by Byline Investigates, which covers stories about other media organisations.

He said he had done so to “clear my conscience”, adding he was “deeply sorry for what I did”.

Reponding to the story, Meghan and Harry said in a statement: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex feel that today is an important moment of reflection for the media industry and society at large, as this investigative report shows that the predatory practices of days past are still ongoing, reaping irreversible damage for families and relationships.

“They are grateful to those working in media who stand for upholding the values of journalism, which are needed now more than ever before.”

Prince Harry is currently suing The Sun and The Daily Mirror on unrelated charges of phone hacking.

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