Private investigators in the US are allowed to access databases of restricted information for certain reasons—but those reasons definitely don't include digging up dirt on the romantic partners of British royals. Retired Los Angeles-based private investigator Danno Hanks tells the BBC and the New York Times that Britain's Sun tabloid paid him around $2,000 for personal details on Meghan Markle and her family members, ex-husband, and a former boyfriend after she was first rumored to be dating Prince Harry in 2016. Hanks says the information, which included Social Security numbers and was unlawfully pulled from a database he had access to, led to a stream of "exclusive" stories about Markle in the Sun and other newspapers. In November that year, Harry confirmed he was dating Markle and said the media had "crossed a line" with harassment of people close to her. Markle later fell out with father Thomas Markle over tabloid coverage.
Hanks—who was stripped of his license after his most recent stint in prison—says he believes the editor he dealt with, James Beal, knew the information had been unlawfully obtained. 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 tells the Times. "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." In a statement to USA Today, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said reports on Hanks show "that the predatory practices of days past are still ongoing, reaping irreversible damage for families and relationships." The owner of the TLOxp restricted database says Hanks was not allowed to share information from the service with any third party. (Read more Meghan Markle stories.)