JAN MOIR: Prince Harry reform journalism? He can't use a comma

JAN MOIR: Prince Harry reform journalism? He doesn’t even know how a comma works

Deep breath. Are you OK? The Duke of Sussex was back in court on his second and final day of giving evidence. He entered the witness box just before 10.30am, did a little neck roll, took a sip of water and prepared for the ordeal ahead.

The prince was still in his smart suit and had swapped Tuesday’s purple tie for a snazzy silver one – but something else was different, too. Something more elusive. Did I detect a new spritz of lemon in his cocktail of complaint, a rousing grind of pepper on his ongoing beef?

It was almost as if he’d been instructed overnight to answer questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and stick to the script, for God’s sake. For example, he had a better response to the important question of when he had read the newspaper articles in question.

On Tuesday he repeatedly told the court he couldn’t remember, end of. Yesterday it was: ‘I can’t remember but that is to suggest that the stress has been reduced and it hasn’t been.’

Soon we were roving over evidence about his wild and crazy younger life, including an injured knee that delayed his entry to Sandhurst, his trips to lap dancing clubs, his ‘boozy playboy lifestyle’ and his relationship with Chelsy Davy.

JAN MOIR: The Duke of Sussex was back in court on his second and final day of giving evidence

Barrister Andrew Green, representing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), leaves the Royal Courts of Justice after Prince Harry

Prince Harry – so very vague about so very much that happened back then – had a sudden illuminating jolt of memory. He argued that he did not go to a London nightclub called Amika once a month (‘I don’t believe I was there that often’) and doubted the newspaper’s version of events (‘I don’t see any quotes from the Lithuanian lapdancer who sat on my lap’).

However, we all know Harry by now. Give our guy a public platform and it won’t be long before he is complaining about his privacy. Although to be scrupulously fair, this IS a phone hacking trial and not an exercise in vengeance. Or is it?

During his cross-examination by Andrew Green KC, acting for Mirror Group Newspapers, Prince Harry revealed that he decided to bring the case after meeting lawyer David Sherborne in the south of France, sometimes known as a sunny place for shady people, but of course that is not relevant here.

Harry also revealed that part of his impetus for the lawsuit was a desire to do something about the ‘abuse and hate that was coming towards me and my wife’ in recent years. So an exercise in revenge and punishment rather than one in justice and ethics?

In his witness statement, Prince Harry grandly described himself as someone who wants to ‘save journalism as a profession’ and ‘a soldier upholding important values’. It would be simply crushing to discover that this warrior of morality was motivated, even a little bit, by less noble sentiments.

Despite his new focus, it wasn’t long before the prince was drifting far from shore again, answering the questions in his head rather than the ones he had just been asked and taking any opportunity to expound on his general grievances to the judge. ‘Doesn’t mean it is true, my lord,’ he would say. ‘I highly doubt that, my lord,’ he would add. Mr Green got a little exasperated at one point. ‘Could I just repeat what I said yesterday – this is about me asking you questions, not you asking me questions,’ he said.

‘So be it,’ sighed the KC, after another dead-end exchange with the prince. There was a discussion, yet again, about what was and what was not in the public interest. Prince Harry was asked to define the former, and gave the matter some thought. ‘A life-threatening injury?’ he suggested. ‘I’m sure there are others.’

I’m sure there are. Again and again we got a glimpse of the unique struggles of the young prince’s cloistered life, a miserable-sounding existence constrained by suspicion and privilege. He was chary of everyone and inside this corral of distrust he was ministered by people he variously described as ‘my security’, ‘my point person’ and even ‘my police’.

A court artist’s sketch of Prince Harry being cross-examined by Andrew Green KC, acting for Mirror Group Newspapers 

Sometimes you have to wonder, who on earth was looking after this lost, motherless boy? At other times, his lack of acuity is gasping.

Towards the end of the day the focus switched onto a news story about his break-up with Chelsy Davy, printed with the headline, ‘Hooray Harry’s Dumped’. ‘My Lord, this was hurtful to say the least,’ said the prince, adding that he found it ‘a little bit mean’ that such a private moment was ‘turned into a bit of a laugh.’

‘You are not suggesting that they [the newspaper] were celebrating you had been dumped,’ said Green, incredulous. ‘Yes, I am. For me,’ said Harry, touching his heart with fluttering fingers, ‘as the subject or victim of this, to see that word used in this term is hurtful.’

If only a newspaper sub-editor – or anyone with a rudimentary grasp of grammar – had been on hand to explain the difference between Hooray Harry’s Dumped and Hooray, Harry’s Dumped.

How can a man come through an expensive education without knowing the basic rules of punctuation? Or expect to single-handedly ‘save journalism’ if he doesn’t even know how a comma works?

When he had finished giving his evidence, Prince Harry took a seat in the courtroom for the rest of the day. How had it all gone? That morning, Mr Green had asked him if it was true he was brought back early from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. ‘I was evacuated, yes,’ said Prince Harry.

You could say much the same about his hours in the witness box.

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