Letters between the late Princess Diana and Michael Barrymore in which she discusses a “secret” meeting between the pair have been revealed in her son Prince Harry’s High Court trial against the Daily Mirror publisher.
The Duke of Sussex is one of four “test” cases among scores of complaints against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) being heard in London, alleging illegal information-gathering techniques such as phone hacking, which the publisher denies.
With Harry flying in from the US late on Sunday after celebrating his daughter Lilibet’s birthday, his lawyer David Sherborne presented his mother’s letters to the court on Monday as he sought to claim the duke had been impacted by unlawful press tactics since childhood.
Describing the late Princess of Wales as a “huge target” for MGN, Mr Sherborne claimed that the alleged interception of her messages “would necessarily have involved obtaining information about the young prince [Harry]”.
Mr Sherborne read out two letters exchanged between Diana and former TV personality Mr Barrymore, which he said “plainly” showed the Mirror had been listening to her voicemail messages – a claim denounced as “total speculation” by MGN’s lawyers.
In one letter, sent in March 1997 as Mr Barrymore was “struggling” while undergoing an “acrimonious” divorce and addiction treatment, having recently revealed that he was gay, Diana told him: “What a joy it was to finally meet you tonight and it was a privilege to share so much with you.
“I did want to emphasise that I’m here for you whenever, it’s very easy to pop round and see you or please telephone now you have my number anytime. You’re doing just fine and believe me, I know. So take great care and lots of love from Diana.”
Diana told Mr Barrymore she had been “devastated” to learn that the “Daily Mirror” had called her office about him and their meetings, which Mr Sherborne described as “secret and highly sensitive”.
In the letter, Diana said she had not told anyone about the meetings.
Another letter, dated June 1997 – two months before Diana’s death – “demonstrates the impact of these activities”, Mr Sherborne said, pointing to the alleged phone-hacking.
Mr Sherborne said Diana wrote to Mr Barrymore saying she had not heard from him and hoped his silence was “good news”, adding: “I have had a nightmare time with the tabloids.”
The barrister added: “Mr Barrymore is so frightened off that he does not contact Princess Diana and this is the isolation that this activity causes.”
He pointed to Piers Morgan – editor of the Mirror between 1995 and 2004 – having referred to hearing rumours about the meetings between Diana and Mr Barrymore in his 2005 book, The Insider.
The reason Mr Morgan had heard was because Mirror journalists would have heard “private messages”, claimed Mr Sherborne, who is also representing Coronation Street actors Nikki Sanderson and Michael Turner, and Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of actor Paul Whitehouse.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Mr Morgan strenuously denied knowing “anything about” phone hacking at the Mirror, calling the practice “completely wrong” and “lazy journalists being lazy”.
Addressing the court later on Monday on behalf of MGN, Andrew Green KC said the claims Diana’s phone was hacked was “total speculation without any evidential basis whatsoever”.
“The letters you were shown, to Michael Barrymore, are not evidence of voicemail interception,” Mr Green said, adding that “plainly no such finding could be made”.
Additional reporting by PA