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Prince Harry wins phone hacking lawsuit against British tabloid publisher, awarded 140,000 pounds

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Prince Harry wins phone hacking lawsuit against British tabloid publisher, awarded 140,000 pounds

LONDON (AP) — Prince Harry’s phone was hacked by journalists and private investigators working for the Daily Mirror who invaded his privacy by snooping on him unlawfully, a judge ruled Friday, delivering an historic victory for the estranged royal who broke from family tradition to take on the British press.

Phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” at Mirror Group Newspapers, and executives at the papers covered it up, Justice Timothy Fancourt said in his 386-page ruling handed down in the High Court.

The newspapers were ordered to pay the Duke of Sussex 140,000 pounds ($180,000) for using unlawful information gathering in 15 of the 33 newspaper articles examined at trial.

Harry said the ruling was “vindicating and affirming” and should serve as a warning to other news media that used similar practices, an overt reference to two tabloid publishers that face upcoming trials in lawsuits that make nearly identical allegations.

“Today is a great day for truth, as well as accountability,” Harry said in a statement read by his lawyer outside court. “I’ve been told that slaying dragons will get you burned. But in light of today’s victory and the importance of doing what is needed for a free and honest press, it is a worthwhile price to pay. The mission continues.”

Fancourt awarded the duke damages for the distress he suffered and a further sum to “reflect the particular hurt and sense of outrage” because two directors at Trinity Mirror knew about the activity and didn’t stop it.

“They turned a blind eye to what was going on and positively concealed it,” Fancourt said. “Had the illegal conduct been stopped, the misuse of the duke’s private information would have ended much sooner.”

Harry, 39, the alienated younger son of King Charles III, had sought 440,000 pounds ($560,000) as part of a crusade against the British media that bucked his family’s longstanding aversion to litigation and made him the first senior member of the royal family to testify in court in over a century.

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His appearance in the witness box over two days in June created a spectacle as he lobbed allegations that Mirror Group had employed journalists who eavesdropped on voicemails and hired private investigators to use deception and unlawful means to learn about him, other family members and associates.

“I believe that phone hacking was at an industrial scale across at least three of the papers at the time,” Harry asserted in the High Court. “That is beyond any doubt.”

But Harry had little proof of his own to back his allegations.

The Mirror’s lawyer showed him examples of stories that mirrored those published previously in competing papers and even stories that had come from Buckingham Palace and, in one instance, a story from an interview the prince himself had given to mark his 18th birthday.

Harry repeatedly insisted there was no way the papers could have landed their scoops legitimately.

The judge said Harry had a tendency in his testimony “to assume that everything published was the product of voicemail interception because phone hacking was rife within Mirror Group at the time.”

Fancourt said Mirror Group was “not responsible for all of the unlawful activity directed at the duke” by the press, but found it had eavesdropped on his messages as early as 2003 and when hacking was “extensive” at the newspapers from 2006 to 2011.

Mirror Group welcomed the judgment for providing the “necessary clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago,” Chief Executive Jim Mullen said.

“Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologize unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation,” Mullen said in statement.

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Attorney Philippa Dempster, who wasn’t involved in the case, said hundreds of people who had articles written about them decades ago that contained private information from questionable sources may now be inspired to bring a claim against the newspapers.

“This is a landmark victory for the privacy rights of individuals and marks another clear line in the sand for press standards,” Dempster said. “It shows that the courts are willing to reach back into the past, sift through evidence and hold those who practiced the so-called ‘dark arts’ of the press to account.”

The case is the first of three lawsuits Harry has filed against the tabloids over allegations of phone hacking or some form of unlawful information gathering. They form the front line of attack in what he says is his life’s mission to reform the media.

Harry’s beef with the news media runs deep and is cited throughout his memoir, “Spare.” He blames paparazzi for causing the car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana, and he said intrusions by journalists led him and his wife, Meghan, to leave royal life for the U.S. in 2020.

Harry alleged that Mirror Group used unlawful means to produce nearly 150 stories on his early life between 1996 and 2010, including his romances, injuries and alleged drug use. The reporting caused great distress, he said in sometimes emotional testimony, but was hard to prove because the newspapers destroyed records.

Of the 33 articles at the center of the trial, Mirror denied using unlawful reporting methods for 28 and made no admissions concerning the remaining five.

Fancourt previously tossed out Harry’s hacking claims against the publisher of The Sun. He is allowing Harry and actor Hugh Grant, who has made similar claims, to proceed to trial on allegations that News Group Newspapers journalists used other unlawful methods to snoop on them.

Another judge recently gave Harry the go-ahead to take a similar case to trial against the publisher of the Daily Mail, rejecting the newspaper’s efforts to throw out the lawsuit. Harry is joined in that litigation by Elton John, actors Elizabeth Hurley, Sadie Frost and others.

Attorney Michael Gardner, who was not involved in the case, said the judgment will get the attention of other publishers facing trial, particularly after the judge called out higher-ups who were aware of the unlawful activity.

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“Overall, the media organizations that Harry is still suing will be worried that this will give him a lift and strengthen his determination to pursue them,” Gardner said. “To the extent that Harry’s other cases could implicate individuals at other media groups, then clearly there will be concerns there.”

Phone hacking by British newspapers dates back more than two decades to a time when unethical journalists used an unsophisticated method of phoning the numbers of royals, celebrities, politicians and sports stars and, when prompted to leave a message, punched in default passcodes to eavesdrop on voicemails.

The practice erupted into a full-blown scandal in 2011 when Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World was revealed to have intercepted messages of a murdered girl, relatives of deceased British soldiers and victims of a bombing. Murdoch closed the paper.

Newspapers were later found to have used more intrusive means such as phone tapping, home bugging and obtaining flight information and medical records.

Mirror Group Newspapers said it has paid more than 100 million pounds ($128 million) in other phone hacking lawsuits over the years, but denied wrongdoing in Harry’s case. It said it used legitimate reporting methods to get information on the prince.

At the start of the trial, Mirror Group apologized “unreservedly” for one instance when it admitted to hiring a private investigator for a story about Harry partying at a nightclub in February 2004. Although the article, headlined “Sex on the beach with Harry,” wasn’t among those at issue in the trial, Mirror Group said he should be compensated 500 pounds ($637).

Harry brought the case along with three other claimants, including two members of Britain’s longest-running TV soap opera, “Coronation Street.”

The judge found all had legitimate claims but he tossed out cases brought by actor Nikki Sanderson and Fiona Wightman, the former wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, because they were filed too late. He awarded actor Michael Turner 31,000 pounds ($40,000).

The trial was a test case against Mirror Group and the verdict could influence the outcome of hacking claims made by the estate of the late singer George Michael, former Girls Aloud member Cheryl and former soccer player Ian Wright.

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Harry’s case is also not resolved. He could receive additional compensation over the remaining 115 articles that were not examined at trial.

The judge told the parties to work out an agreement on those or they would have to go to trial again.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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