Meghan’s letter to estranged father ‘part of a media strategy’, High Court hears

The Duchess of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers over five articles in total, two in the Mail on Sunday and three on MailOnline.

The Duchess of Sussex
The Duchess of Sussex

The Duchess of Sussex discussed a letter to her estranged father with the Kensington Palace communications team before she sent it because she wanted to use it “as part of a media strategy”, the High Court has heard.

Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers (ANL) over the publication in the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline of a “private and confidential” letter sent to Thomas Markle in August 2018.

The duchess, 39, claims the February 2019 publication of parts of the handwritten letter to Mr Markle, 76, was a misuse of her private information and breached the Data Protection Act, as well as a breach of her copyright.

At the latest preliminary hearing in London on Monday, ANL argued that Meghan wrote the letter to Mr Markle “with a view to it being read by third parties and/or disclosed to the public, or knowing that this was very likely”.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

Alexandra Marzec, representing ANL, told the court the duchess “was using her friends as, effectively, PR agents” to “influence the media” in the months before the letter was sent to Mr Markle in 2018.

Ms Marzec said Meghan had spoken to her friend Jessica Mulroney and asked her “to intervene to attempt to influence” what her former commercial adviser Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne said to the press.

The publisher is seeking to amend its written defence to Meghan’s claim to argue that a recent book about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, was published “with their extensive co-operation”.

Antony White QC, also representing ANL, said in written submissions: “The book sets out in great detail the claimant’s feelings on a variety of personal matters, relationships and events, and attributes multiple quotes to her about her feelings.”

He added: “It also sets out in great detail accounts of events at which it is reasonable to infer that only the claimant and her husband, and/or possibly a third party who would not have spoken to the authors (eg the Queen), were present.”

Mr White told the court that “there are only three possible ways to account for the inclusion of this information in the book”.

He argued that either Meghan “gave or allowed others to give this information to the authors”, that she gave the information to her friends in confidence who provided it to the authors “despite her wishes”, or “the information is the product of invention by the authors and/or the authors’ sources”.

Mr White said that, if the information was invented by the authors or their sources, “it is inevitable that the claimant would have complained to and most likely issued legal proceedings against the authors”.

The barrister added that Mr Scobie had provided a witness statement to the court, which he said “seems to confirm that people working on behalf of the claimant co-operated with the authors and gave them the names of people close to the claimant who would help, and that the authors spoke to such people and received information from them”.

But Meghan’s lawyers argued that references in the book to her letter to Mr Markle were simply “extracts from the letter lifted from the defendant’s own articles” and denied that the duchess “collaborated” with the authors.

In written submissions, Justin Rushbrooke QC said: “The claimant and her husband did not collaborate with the authors on the book, nor were they interviewed for it, nor did they provide photographs to the authors for the book.”

He added that neither Meghan nor Harry to spoke to Mr Scobie or Ms Durand, who he said “were not given the impression that the claimant wanted the contents of the letter to be reproduced in the book”.

The court also heard that the total legal costs of both sides are estimated to be around £3 million, up to and including the trial.

In documents before the court, Jessie Bowhill – who also represents the duchess – said: “The overall total costs figures are £1,798,043.57 for the claimant and £1,230,425 for the defendant.”

She added: “At the broad brush level, £1.8 million is a reasonable and proportionate amount for a seven to 10-day trial in the High Court in a case concerning private information, personal data and intellectual property rights of a high-profile individual.”

Last month, the duchess won the most recent tussle in the legal action after Mr Justice Warby ruled in her favour over protecting the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to a US magazine.

Meghan’s lawyers had applied for the five friends who gave an interview to People magazine, speaking out against the bullying the duchess said she has faced, to remain anonymous in reports of the proceedings.

The duchess is suing ANL over five articles in total, two in the Mail on Sunday and three on MailOnline, which were published in February 2019.

The headline of the first Mail on Sunday article read: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”

Monday’s hearing before Judge Francesca Kaye will also deal with applications for further disclosure and directions towards a trial, which is due to begin in January.

It is not clear if the judge will give a ruling on ANL’s application to amend its defence on Monday, or reserve it to a later date.

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