Prince Harry‘s account of a ‘near catastrophic’ car chase involving paparazzi through the streets of New York was being questioned last night.
A spokesman for the Sussexes claimed the prince, his wife Meghan, as well as his mother-in-law Doria Ragland, were the victims of a ‘relentless pursuit lasting more than two hours’ after leaving an awards do on Tuesday night.
It has been suggested that the family were keen to ensure that they were not followed to where they were staying, on the Upper East Side of the city, which resulted in a lengthy ‘cat and mouse’ pursuit.
The trio, accompanied by a lone bodyguard, tried to outwit the group by swapping their SUV for a yellow New York taxi before later swapping back again.
In an emotive statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for the couple said: ‘The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.
It has been suggested that the family were keen to ensure that they were not followed to where they were staying, on the Upper East Side
In an emotive statement on Wednesday, a spokesman for the couple said they’d been involved in a car chase with ‘highly aggressive’ paparazzi
‘This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers.
‘While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone’s safety.’
But yesterday, that account was subject to increasing scrutiny, with conflicting reports of what actually happened on the evening in question.
Julian Phillips, deputy commissioner of public information in New York, revealed that the NYPD had ‘assisted’ the couple’s private security team.
He said while the behaviour of the ‘numerous’ photographers present was ‘challenging’, the duke and duchess ‘arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries or arrests in regard.’
New York Mayor, Eric Adams, expressed empathy and described the actions of the paparazzi as ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible’, but added that he would find it ‘hard to believe’ there was a ‘two-hour high-speed chase’.
New York police officials also told US broadcaster NBC that they did not believe the case was ‘near catastrophic’, but ‘a bit of a chaotic scene’.
US channel ABC reported today having spoken to police sources who acknowledged that the experience may have been ‘scary’ for those involved, but said that the media presence was ‘not the kind of caravan described by sources close to Harry and Meghan’.
The driver of the cab, Sukhcharn ‘Sunny’ Singh (pictured), said he picked up the group at the police station at around11pm
New York Mayor, Eric Adam (pictured), expressed empathy and described the actions of the paparazzi as ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible’
Wylie Stecklow (pictured in May 2023), an attorney who has represented numerous New York photographers, pointed out that in America, photographers are protected by the US Constitution
Dai Davies, who was previously in charge of the royalty protection department in the UK, said it ‘beggars belief’ that the couple were bundled into a taxi (pictured in 2015)
Others questioned why the couple and their security team chose to go on a one hour and fifteen minute ‘cat and mouse’ ride across Manhattan, which apparently saw them stop off at least twice at a police precinct and flag down a random New York taxi driver to take them home.
Dai Davies, a retired police chief superintendent who was previously in charge of the royalty protection department in the UK, expressed his surprise at the actions of the couple’s private security team.
He said that they should have taken steps to mark out ‘places of safety’ in case of an incident before the couple’s arrival in New York and have sought refuge within five minutes of deciding they felt threatened.
Mr Davies added that it ‘beggars belief’ their team hailed a taxi and bundled them into it.
‘Cool heads should have applied and questions need to be asked of his security team,’ he told the Mail.
‘They failed to take adequate precautions and to put him in a taxi beggars belief. Something has gone horribly wrong with the strategy, planning and tactics. I am not defending the paparazzi whatsoever but it seems to me that it was the decisions made by Harry and Meghan’s security team on the night that put civilians in danger – not least an innocent taxi driver who found himself surrounded by photographers. It’s just an incredulous decision. ‘
The driver of the cab, Sukhcharn ‘Sunny’ Singh, said he picked up the group at the police station at around 11pm after being flagged down by a bodyguard and being asked if he ‘wanted a fare’.
Harry, Meghan and Doria squeezed in the back, with the security man in the front, who after a few minutes of driving became concerned they were being followed again and asked him to turn back.
Mr Singh, who was paid $50 for the trip, confirmed that the photographers appeared out of nowhere while they were stationary and stuck behind a refuse truck and that his passengers appeared ‘nervous’.
But he denied that in his experience it had been ‘near catastrophic’ – ‘I don’t think that’s true’, he said – and insisted that he at no time felt unsafe.
Harry, Meghan and Doria were said to be ‘shaken up’ by the incident. Tom Buda, head of the security firm responsible for their transportation, told NBC News the ‘chase was frightening’ and ‘putting them in danger’, with Mrs Ragland particularly badly affected.
Mr Buda, the president of Buda Security Inc, said the group pursuing them were ‘driving aggressively and badly.’ He added that they were ‘following us to find out where we were staying.’ He claimed that some cars were trying to leapfrog them and two cars ahead were working to slow traffic down.
Although it ‘was not a high speed pursuit,’ Buda said ‘it was reckless by them’.
That contradicted claims by Omid Scobie, the couple’s biographer, who told Newsnight that he had been told by ‘their team’ and ‘sources’ that the Sussex party reached speeds ‘of up to 80 mph trying to lose some of the people that were following them’.
Photographic agency Backgrid USA today responded to claims that their photographers were acting aggressively saying they ‘had no intention of causing any distress or harm, as their only tool was their cameras’ and insisted there had been no collisions.
It confirmed that it had received photographs and video from four freelance photographers, three of whom were in cars and one of whom was riding a bicycle.
However the photographers concerned have alleged that it was, in fact, Harry and Meghan’s security escort that was travelling in what could be perceived to be a ‘reckless’ manner and blocked off streets.
Omid Scobie, the couple’s biographer, told Newsnight that he had been told by ‘their team’ and ‘sources’ that the Sussex party reached speeds ‘of up to 80 mph’ during the chase
The photographers concerned have alleged that it was, in fact, Harry and Meghan’s security escort that was travelling in what could be perceived to be a ‘reckless’ manner
Gloria Steinem (pictured right), the 89-year-old feminist icon, with Meghan as a ‘Woman of Vision’ at Tuesday night’s Ms. Foundation Gala
One of them told Good Morning Britain that ‘there was zig-zagging, there was cutting off, there was coming super close to the cars, there was squeezing and wedging…’ all by the car containing the family.
However Backgrid said it would be looking into the matter and does not ‘condone any form of harassment of illegal activity’.
Harry has offered to hand over mobile phone footage he took to the New York Police Department, it was claimed today/yesterday (Thurs).
The royal is said to be keen to ‘push for accountability’. Footage published on US gossip website TMZ shows Harry filming one of the photographers concerned.
Newsweek, a publication known to have close links to the Sussexes, said earlier today that Harry would hand his files to the police.
It reported that the material would be passed to the NYPD for ‘investigation’ as the couple ‘push for accountability over an accident that reminded many of the death of Princess Diana’.
But Wylie Stecklow, an attorney who has represented numerous New York photographers, pointed out that in America, photographers are protected by the US Constitution.
He told the Mail: ‘Removing the royalty from the equation, it is understandable that a man who lost his mother to an auto accident involving paparazzi would be very concerned about being the subject of what he believes to be similar conduct.
‘If the online video is the extent of the accident they are concerned about, it does not seem to rise to any level of criminal conduct.
‘Photographers engaged in news-gathering efforts of celebrities are protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.’
Matthew Leish, a New York lawyer who works with media companies, said: ‘It’s hard to see anyone being prosecuted for this and a criminal case seems far-fetched to me.
‘New York does not have any anti-paparazzi laws unlike California which has them in place to stop things like high speed chases and to regulate the use of telephoto lenses.
‘If the NYPD did bring a case then reckless endangerment might be an option. I don’t know if there was a high speed chase but if the photographers put someone at risk then they could be prosecuted for reckless endangerment, but I don’t think that’s likely and it does not rise to that level, based on what I have seen.
‘If Harry has video showing a high speed chase then that might change things.
‘There is no right to privacy in a taxi and New York does not recognize claims for invasion of privacy.’
Video and pictures circulating on social media showing Harry, Meghan, Doria and their bodyguard in the taxi suggests that none of them were wearing a seatbelt, which is contrary to New York State law.