Private investigator admits to illegally spying on Meghan Markle on behalf of British tabloid

Daniel Portley-Hanks illegally obtained Meghan Markle's social security number and other sensitive information

A private investigator is revealing that a British tabloid paid him large sums of money to spy on Meghan Markle at the onset of her relationship with Prince Harry.

Daniel Portley-Hanks, who is now a retired private investigator out of Los Angeles, was hired by The Sun to obtain private information about Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, The New York Times reported on Thursday. His services were obtained in 2016 when it became public knowledge that Markle and Prince Harry were dating.

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle (Photo by Tolga Akmen – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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The Times viewed invoices by Portley-Hanks in which he was paid $2,055 by the U.S. editor, James Beal for information he obtained through the restricted database service TLOxp where addresses, cell phone numbers, and social security numbers can be found. The private information of Markle, her family, and her ex-husband were located and sold.

The U.S. allows this information to be used in criminal and civil cases. However, it is against the law for such sensitive intelligence to be sold to news agencies. Portley-Hanks told The Times that The Sun was not concerned about compromising the privacy of Markle if it meant they could get a scoop.

The Sun “sent me a letter I had to sign that said I wouldn’t use any illegal methods to locate people or do background checks,” he claimed in the interview. “Then the reporters came back to me and said, ‘But if you want to get work, keep doing what you’ve been doing,’ with a nod and a wink.”

Oprah Meghan Markle Prince Harry
In this handout image provided by Harpo Productions and released on March 5, 2021, Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special premiering on CBS on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

Portley-Hanks added there was no doubt that Beal was aware of his actions.

“I strongly believe that James Beal knew that what I was providing him was obtained illegally,” Portley-Hanks said.

Portley-Hanks has provided an affidavit to lawyers representing Prince Harry who is currently in litigation with the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun over phone hacking allegations. Beal declined to comment to The Times.

Graham Johnson of the independent upstart Byline Investigates discovered the full extent of Portley-Hank’s actions last summer. At the time, Portley-Hanks told the outlet that the British tabloids were attempting to cover up their misdeeds. He was asked to remove “suspicious” and “detective” following the uproar of the phone hacking scandals that have plagued the British press.

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“This type of cover-up increased significantly in 2011-2012, following the phone hacking scandal in the UK,” he said last June. “Private Investigators were taboo, because I guess a lot of what we did wasn’t permitted, and they were getting very worried about this – they were getting criticised.”

“And the last thing they wanted was this thing spreading to America.”

Meghan Markle
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) visits the University of Johannesburg on October 1, 2019. (Photo by Tim Rooke – Pool/Getty Images)

News Group Newspapers, which publishes The Sun, maintained that any requests made of Portley-Hanks were legitimate.

“He was instructed clearly in writing to act lawfully and he signed a legal undertaking that he would do so,” News Group Newspapers said in a statement.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who have been critical of the coverage of the British press that has included headlines such as Markle being “(Almost) Straight Outta Compton,” released their own statement. The couple declared that these illegal practices were still taking place.

“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex 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,” the statement read.

“They are grateful to those working in media who stand for upholding the values of journalism, which are needed now more than ever before.”

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