Meghan Markle, Prince Harry Speak Out Against ‘Predatory Practices’

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have spoken up following a website’s claims that U.K. tabloid The Sun paid a private investigator to dig into her life.

The Sun U.S. hired private investigator Dan Hanks to obtain information about Markle, and her father Thomas, in 2016, shortly after she started dating Prince Harry, according to a report by Byline Investigates.

“Hanks obtained the Markles’ private information by deception, including their social security numbers — a criminal offence in the U.S. as it is in the U.K.,” the report alleges. “Six of their private phone numbers were also gotten from a protected database, including Meghan’s mobile. Within days, The Sun had published an article quoting an anonymous ‘friend,’ claiming that Prince Harry had ‘bombarded Meghan with texts’ prior to their first date.”

The report, published Thursday, also states that the tabloid frenzy around the Markles eventually led to a rift in the family. “The Sun also tried to ‘dig some dirt’ on the Duchess of Sussex, by tasking Hanks to track down her ex-husband, and two of her rumoured former boyfriends,” the report says. “But it appears that they couldn’t find any scandal on the ‘Suits’ actress, and instead used Hanks’ dossier to target distant relatives, who sniped at her success.”

A spokesperson for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said in a statement emailed to Variety that the couple “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.”

Byline Investigates is a crowd-funded team of London-based journalists, covering stories about other media organizations. The outlet’s report was shared and verified by the BBC and New York Times.

Hanks has made a public apology to the Sussexes and The Queen in the Byline Investigates report.

“I’m sorry to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry for targeting her family, particularly her dad, on behalf of The Sun. I never wanted to cause Meghan Markle harm, and wouldn’t have done the job if I’d have known it would lead to all these problems,” said Hanks. “I also wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to The Queen, because I realise the harm of what I did for The Sun has affected the whole family.”

In a statement, The Sun publisher News Group Newspapers told the BBC: “In 2016, the Sun made a legitimate request of Mr Hanks to research contact details and addresses for Meghan Markle and possible relatives using legal databases which he had a license to use. He was paid $250.

“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,” reads the statement.

“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.”