News Group Newspapers, which publishes The Sun, said they “legitimately” asked Mr. Portley-Hanks to research details of Ms. Markle and her relatives from databases he was licensed to use. “He was given clear instructions in writing to act lawfully and he signed a legal commitment to do so,” a statement said.
None of the information it provided raised concerns about illegal practices, the company said, adding that it did not request Ms. Markle’s Social Security number – which is more restricted information – and did not use it for any purpose.
In the UK, legal experts say, tabloids have moved cautiously since the 2011 scandal that forced Mr Murdoch to shut down another of his tabloids, The News of the World, and torpedoed the takeover of a satellite broadcaster, BSkyB.
“There is currently no evidence that they have continued illegal activity since 2011,” said Daniel Taylor, an expert on data protection law.
But Mr Taylor added, speaking on the tabloids, “There would have been tremendous interest in Harry and Meghan and there is no doubt they would have turned every stone to ensure they had a competitive advantage over their rivals.”
While The Sun was printing its early articles on the Harry and Meghan romance, the Sunday Express and other competitors got their own shovels and fanned out across America to speak to someone connected to Ms. Markle. They marked out houses; they bombarded distant relatives with phone calls; they talked to neighbors; They quoted unnamed “friends” and “friends” of the couple.
Typical of the coverage was an article in The Daily Mail which, laden with racist innuendos, said the biracial Ms. Markle was “(almost) straight outta Compton,” describing the LA neighborhood where her black mother lived as “Filthy” one-story houses “and full of drugs, guns, gangs and violence.