Hello, Harry?

12.11.13

How The Royal Phones Got Hacked

A court hears that the Windsors may have made life too easy for alleged phone hackers by collecting the family’s private mobile numbers in a loosely-guarded “Green Book” directory.

The British tabloids’ fascination with the royal family knows no bounds, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the Windsors have on several occasions taken center stage at the phone hacking trial now underway in London, where the prosecution says reporters desperate to unlock the royals’ secrets attempted to illegally unlock their phones.

But of course, in order to hack a phone, you need to know the number, as it is by interrupting the voicemail greeting and entering a code—often not reset from the factory setting of 0000—that messages can be remotely collected by authorized or unauthorized users alike.

And where does one get the private mobile numbers of the likes of Prince Harry, Prince William and their staff?

The answer, according to prosecutors at the ongoing trial of eight former News of the World employees, including royal correspondent Clive Goodman—who has been accused of, and who has denied, being involved in allegedly corrupt payments to public officials while employed by the tabloid—is the legendary “Green Book,” the internal royal phone directory that lists the private phone numbers, including the cell phones, of senior royals and their staff.

The court also heard that the Palace was apparently not informed until 2012 that multiple copies of the book had been found at Goodman’s home six years prior.

On 31 October, for example, according to a report in The Guardian, there was much discussion of the Green Book in an email Goodman allegedly wrote to his editor Andy Coulson, which was shown to the jury. In the missive, prosecutors say, Goodman told Coulson that he needed £1,000 in cash to pay a source for a copy of the book.

At the trial yesterday, however, a casual observer may have come to the conclusion that Goodman overpaid for the directories, as the proceedings revealed for the first time the astoundingly lax way in which the books were apparently distributed and passed around by the hundreds.

Astonishingly, the court also heard that the Palace was apparently not informed until 2012 that multiple copies of the book had been found at Goodman’s home six years prior.

According to reporters inside the court house, including the excellent James Doleman of blog The Drum, the jury was told that in 2006 ,Goodman's home was searched and multiple Green Books were found, along with several other copies of a more general phone book, the Internal Telephone Directory, or ITD, which listed royal residences, administrative phone numbers and staff extensions.

Michelle Light-- described as Buckingham Palace’s head of telephony, who was in charge of distributing the directories--told the court that around 1000 Green Books were produced every year. Light told the court that some, but by no means all of the royal offices where the ‘desk-based’ directories were supposed to be held, would be locked overnight.

When Light was then asked if, when a directory was lost, there was an obligation on anyone to report it, she replied that she did not think so.

Old copies of the directory were supposed to be shredded, and they carried a security warning on the front cover, Light said, but she relied on the trust of people holding them and did not require out-of-date directories to be returned to her.

Furthermore, according to a BBC report, Light was not told until 2012 that multiple Green Books were found at the home of Goodman in 2006. Since 2012, according to a reporter for The Guardian, the number of directories in circulation has been "dramatically reduced".

Under questioning by Coulson’s legal team, Light stated that there was no overall security process on how the books should be safeguarded – although the Green Book did apparently have a warning on the inside front page saying it should not be shared with unauthorized people and that it should be shredded when an updated version has been received, the court heard.

A document displayed on the court video screens showed an edited page from the directory listing various names and redacted numbers including those of such as Michael Peat, secretary to the Prince of Wales, various ladies in waiting and Professor Perrins - the 'Royal swan warden'.

One delightful detail to come out of the trial yesterday was that Prince Philip, long rumored to abjure carrying a cell phone, listed his main telephone number as the switchboard at Buckingham Palace.