Harry, Meghan condemn ‘predatory practices’ after private investigator discusses digging for tabloid

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan spoke out Thursday against “predatory practices” after a private investigator stepped forward to discuss digging up information on the former actress for the U.K. tabloid The Sun early in the couple’s relationship.

Daniel Portley-Hanks, a Los Angeles-based private investigator, told The New York Times and BBC News he was hired by the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid to tap into a  database of restricted information to pull up detailed information on Markle, her extended family and her ex-husband – including home addresses, cellphone numbers, Social Security numbers and more. He was paid $2,055, according to an invoice reviewed by Times.

Portley-Hanks’ role in providing information to The Sun was first reported in June by Byline Investigates, an online publication focused on British tabloids. The organization followed up Thursday with a report on Portley-Hanks’ investigations on Markle in 2016 — five years after Murdoch said he would no longer use private investigators following the 2011 phone hacking scandal at his now-defunct tabloid News of the World.

Portley-Hanks said his 2016 information also pointed The Sun onto Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, who became estranged from his daughter over his tabloid interviews and revelations.

“Pretty much everything I found out they could find out themselves using legal means, with the exception of the Social Security numbers,” Portley-Hanks told the BBC. “When you have that information, it’s the key to the kingdom.”

Toya Holness, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, said in a statement to USA TODAY 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.”

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A Times statement from TransUnion, which owns the restricted TLOxp service used by Portley-Hanks, said: “Safeguarding information is TransUnion’s top priority. This individual was not permitted to share information obtained from TLOxp with any third party.”

The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, told the Times in a statement it had made a “legitimate request” to Portley-Hanks to research details on Markle and her relatives that did not include a request for her Social Security number. “He was instructed clearly in writing to act lawfully and he signed a legal undertaking that he would do so,” the statement said.

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Harry and Meghan have a fraught relationship with invasive tabloid press. Harry told James Corden last month the “toxic” British press was a big reason the couple moved to Los Angeles as it was “was destroying my mental health.”

“I was like, ‘This is toxic.’ So I did what any husband and father would do… I need to get my family out of here,” he said.

Earlier this month, Markle won a preliminary payment of about $625,000 in her privacy infringement lawsuit against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline over their publication of parts of a private letter she wrote to her estranged father following her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry.

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