On May 17, 2023, a spokesperson for Prince Harry said he and his wife, Meghan, as well as her mother, were in a "near catastrophic" car chase involving paparazzi in New York City. The incident prompted several conspiracy theories online, particularly among critics of Meghan, including claims that the couple had fabricated the incident.
Nigel Farage, a right-wing former politician, wrote on Twitter, "NYPD do not know about 'near catastrophic' crash. Harry and Meghan are frauds."
Twitter user @TribesBritannia claimed the incident had been staged, sharing a video as alleged proof.
That footage actually shows the moments after the Sussexes left their SUV and got into a Yellow Cab in order to lose the photographers following them. They were then dropped at the police station, where they switched vehicles and returned home. The video above shows a small portion of the events that occurred that night, and not a full picture.
That said, it was true that there were differing views of what had happened, and several details about the alleged car chase remained unknown. Also, some media reports supposedly detailing the incident cited anonymous sources, making it impossible to independently verify claims and giving reason to question their reliability.
However, claims that the incident was "staged" to somehow benefit the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, or that it was a hoax, were unfounded.
Farage was incorrect in stating the New York Police Department (NYPD) did not know about the incident — the agency issued a statement to media, confirming it was aware of the report — and Farage was also incorrect in characterizing it as a "crash." No credible sources, including the couple, claimed that there was a crash, only that there was allegedly a chase and "near collisions."
What remained unknown, as of this writing on May 18, was the extent of the alleged chase, and whether it was accurately or reasonably described as "near catastrophic." Below, we unpack accounts presented by the Sussexes' team, the NYPD, and a firsthand witness — a cab driver who was driving the couple at the time of the incident.
The Sussexes' vs. the NYPD's Accounts
On May 16, 2023, the Sussexes, accompanied by Meghan Markle's mother, Doria Ragland, attended a Manhattan event where Markle accepted an award from the Ms. Foundation, an organization that focuses on the empowerment of women. Video on social media showed the family leaving the award ceremony in a black SUV. After driving around the venue for about an hour trying to shake off paparazzi because they did not want them to know where they were staying, according to unnamed law enforcement sources speaking to CBS News, they went to a police station, and then left that location in a cab. NYPD squad cars reportedly provided crowd control as the SUV circled the area.
It was before and during the cab ride when the alleged "near catastrophic" events occurred.
Harry's spokesperson stated the next day:
Last night, 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.
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.
Dissemination of these images, given the ways in which they were obtained, encourages a highly intrusive practice that is dangerous to all in involved.
However, the NYPD's account of what happened did not mention any risk of crashes, nor describe any chase between vehicles.
Shortly after the release of the spokesperson's account, the police department issued a short statement to several news outlets, confirming that there was an incident involving the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in a vehicle and photographers. (We reached out to the department to obtain the statement ourselves, and we are waiting for a response.)
Julian Phillips, the deputy commissioner of public information at NYPD, said in a statement:
On [Tuesday] evening, May 16, the NYPD assisted the private security team protecting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. There were numerous photographers that made their transport challenging. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination [a friend's house in the city] and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard.
Sky News reported, citing unnamed police sources:
Harry and Meghan leave the Ziegfeld Ballroom with private security with them at around 10pm local time. Police say the couple wanted to go back to where they were staying on the Upper East Side.
Harry and Meghan didn't want paparazzi to know where they were going so they were driven across 57th street and other streets for about an hour and fifteen minutes. One NYPD vehicle was escorting their vehicle.
The Sussexes were driven to the 19th precinct and stayed there around 15 minutes. Police helped get the pair get off the block and they got into a different car. They got to their residence without being followed. Police have said it was a bit of a chaotic scene.
The Taxi Driver's Account
The Washington Post interviewed the cab driver, Sukhcharn Singh, who transported the couple and Ragland. Singh said he picked them up from outside the police station after a guard waved him down and asked, "Do you want a fare?"
Singh said he drove the group a block and a half before going south of their pickup point. During that time, he said they were pursued by two vehicles: a black Honda Accord and an older gray Honda CR-V. The police statement did not mention these exact vehicles, though unnamed NYPD sources told CBS News that several cars followed the Sussexes while they were in the SUV after leaving the Ziegfield Ballroom. The same sources said the police were piecing together video footage to figure out what exactly happened.
"They kept following us and were coming next to the car," Singh said. "They took pictures as we stopped and were filming us."
Singh told The Washington Post that he got the impression that the group had already been pursued by the paparazzi before they got in his car. He said their security guard seemed concerned about the paparazzi and the couples' location being widely disclosed, and so he asked him to return to the police station. He then drove back to the pick-up point.
He estimated the entire journey lasted 10 minutes, and said he didn't feel like the incident was a chase. "I don't think I would call it a chase," Singh said. "I never felt like I was in danger. It wasn't like a car chase in a movie. They were quiet and seemed scared but it's New York — it's safe."
Singh told The Associated Press that he instantly recognized Harry and Meghan when they got into his cab. "They had this look on their faces," Singh said. "All of a sudden paparazzi came out and started taking pictures."
Singh praised the Sussexes for giving him a generous tip, with a $17 fare: "It was pretty good, man,″ Singh told The Associated Press. "They gave me [$50]. [...] I mean, when I'm going around the block that's more than enough."
Anonymous sources told ABC News, "The cab circled the block and returned to the precinct, unable to shake the photographers, according to sources." At no point did the family enter the precinct.
Citing another anonymous sources, gossip blog TMZ published photographs of the family in the taxi and said "the pursuit was at its most intense" on a highway on the east side of Manhattan, without evidence to support that claim. No other sources alleged that detail. Additionally, like Harry and Meghan's team, TMZ claimed the alleged chase lasted two hours, though there was no proof to confirm that timeline. TMZ reported:
A source tells TMZ the chase started around 10 PM, after the award ceremony, and the pursuit was at its most intense on the FDR Drive ... a highway on the east side of Manhattan. We're told Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's SUV got up to about 80 mph as they tried to shake the paparazzi.
We're also told it ended around midnight ... so, that 2-hour time span Harry and Meghan's spokesperson mentioned is accurate.
TMZ's account continued, "At some point during the chase, the SUV pulled over and the trio jumped in a New York taxi and beat a hasty retreat. It looks like the cops tried to outwit the paps by driving in a different direction than the cab."
Speaking to journalists on May 17, 2023, at an unrelated news conference, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said it was "hard to believe that there was a two-hour high speed chase." However, he said even a 10-minute pursuit would be "extremely dangerous" in New York City, and added that two police officers who were assisting the couple as they attempted to evade paparazzi "could've been injured." He said:
It's clear that the press, paparazzi, they want to get the right shot, they want to get the right story. But public safety must always be at the forefront. The briefing I received, two of our officers [who were assisting the couple] could've been injured. New York City is different from some small town somewhere. You shouldn't be speeding anywhere, but this is a densely populated city. And I think all of us, I don't think there's many of us, who don't recall how his mom died. And it would be horrific to lose an innocent bystander during a chase like this and something to have happened to them as well.
[...] I would find it hard to believe that there was a two hour high speed chase, that would be - I'd find that hard to believe. But we will find out the exact duration of it. But if it's 10 minutes, a 10 minute chase is extremely dangerous in New York City. We have a lot of traffic, a lot of movement, a lot of people are using our streets. Any type of high speed chase that involves something of that nature is inappropriate."
Adams described the incident as a chase, calling it "reckless and irresponsible."
Celebrity photography agency Backgrid USA, which works with four of the freelance photographers involved in the incident, refuted some of the couples' claims in a statement to several media outlets. Though it said it takes the accusations seriously and would conduct an investigation into what happened, the agency claimed that, per its photographers' reports, the Prince's security detail "was driving [the SUV] in a manner that could be perceived as reckless.''
According to the photographers, "there were no near-collisions or near-crashes during this incident," Backgrid USA said. "The photographers have reported feeling that the couple was not in immediate danger at any point."
The whole incident was, however, a reminder of the death of Harry's mother, Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 after she was pursued by paparazzi.