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The Sun ‘did not ask Meghan investigator to act illegally’

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The Sun’s publisher has said a US private investigator “was not tasked to do anything illegal” after he claimed to have unlawfully obtained the Duchess of Sussex’s personal information while working for the newspaper.

Daniel Hanks was paid 250 dollars (£180) to undertake “legitimate” research on Meghan in 2016, the year she first started dating the Duke of Sussex News Group Newspapers (NGN) said.

The publisher issued a statement after the investigator, also known as Danno Hanks, said he had unlawfully accessed detailed information, including the duchess’s social security number.

Mr Hanks made the claim to the BBC with the broadcaster saying it had seen a report compiled by the investigator which was passed to the Sun and featured Meghan’s phone number, addresses, social security number and information on members of her family.

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Information on her ex-husband and a former boyfriend were also included, the BBC said.

According to the broadcaster, licensed private investigators in the US can access databases of personal information for certain permitted reasons such as court reports, but it is unlawful to access this additional level of detail for the purposes of journalism.

Mr Hanks told the BBC: “Pretty much everything I found out they could find out themselves using legal means – with the exception of the social security numbers.

“When you have that information … it’s the key to the kingdom.”

NGN said that “at no time” did the Sun request the duchess’s social security number, nor had it used information provided by Mr Hanks “for any unlawful practice”.

Mr Hanks, now retired, who worked as a private investigator for more than 40 years gathering information on celebrities, has been jailed four times, including in 2017 for extortion, the BBC said.

He told the broadcaster the Sun had contacted him following the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and asked him to sign documents, which the BBC said it had seen, that committed him to act lawfully – an assurance he repeated when billing the newspaper for his work.

But Mr Hanks claimed he was not asked where his information was obtained, telling the BBC: “They didn’t care. They just wanted the information.”

At no time did The Sun request the social security number of Meghan Markle, nor use the information he provided for any unlawful practice

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