Thomas Markle believes Meghan wanted her letter to him published, court hears

The Duchess of Sussex is suing the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over articles which reproduced parts of a handwritten letter.

The Duchess of Sussex
The Duchess of Sussex

The Duchess of Sussex’s estranged father has told the High Court he “still believes” his daughter wanted “her account” of a letter she sent to him to be made public.

Meghan, 39, is suing the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over five articles in February 2019 which reproduced “extensive extracts” from the handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Thomas Markle.

On Tuesday, the High Court heard how the duchess sent the “heartfelt” five-page letter to her father’s home in Mexico “via a trusted contact” in August 2018 in order to “minimise the risk of interception”.

Meghan’s lawyers said the publication of the letter was “self-evidently… highly intrusive”, describing it as “a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights”.

But Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) claims Meghan wrote the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” in order to “defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”.

Meghan is seeking damages from ANL for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act and says ANL has “no prospect” of defending her privacy and copyright claims.

Her lawyers have applied for “summary judgment”, a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a trial, but ANL argues the case is “wholly unsuitable for summary judgment”.

In a witness statement filed by ANL’s lawyers for the hearing, which started on Tuesday, Mr Markle said the letter to him was “not an attempt at a reconciliation”, adding: “It actually signalled the end of our relationship.”

Duchess of Sussex court case
Court artist sketch of Ian Mill QC (top left), Justin Rushbrooke QC (top right) and judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom), at the Royal Courts of Justice (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

He said: “The letter didn’t say she loved me. It did not even ask how I was. It showed no concern about the fact I had suffered a heart attack and asked no questions about my health.”

Mr Markle also said he believed an interview with Meghan’s friends in People magazine, published just days before ANL’s five articles, “had either been expressly authorised by Meg or she had at the very least known about and approved of its publication”.

He said: “I believed, and still believe, that Meghan wanted her account of the letter to be published.

“The sources for the article were said to be Meg’s ‘best friends’.

“It seemed to me she must have used these friends to pass information to the press, information that she wanted published, including information about the letter she had obviously told them she had written.

“I did not think her friends would have disclosed information about the letter unless she had asked them to.”

Duchess of Sussex
The duchess is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers (Simon Dawson/PA)

Mr Markle also said that he “had never intended to talk publicly about Meg’s letter to me”, but he felt the People article “vilified me by making out that I was dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted, leaving a loyal and dutiful daughter devastated”.

He added: “I had to defend myself against that attack.”

The Mail on Sunday’s editor Ted Verity said in a witness statement that the newspaper wanted to help Mr Markle “set the record straight” on his relationship with his daughter.

Mr Markle “did not want the whole letter published because he thought it made his daughter look terrible”, Mr Verity said, “but he wanted to show people that what they might have read in People magazine was inaccurate and unfair to him”.

ANL’s barrister Antony White QC earlier argued that Meghan’s admission she had “a fear” that her letter to her father might be intercepted showed that “she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it”.

He added that the “admitted falsity” of the People magazine article meant Mr Markle “was not only entitled to correct public information about the letter and the reply, it was in the public interest that (he) did so”.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the duchess, described the hand-written letter as “a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father”, asking Mr Markle to stop “talking to the press”.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Harry and Meghan leaving St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle (Ben Stansall/PA)

He said the “contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature” and that Meghan therefore “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter”.

Mr Rushbrooke also addressed ANL’s contention that Meghan was willing to release personal information, including about the letter to her father, into the public domain via an unauthorised biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Finding Freedom.

He told the court that one of the two authors, Omid Scobie, has confirmed that he “lifted” the extracts from the letter which featured in the book “from the defendant’s own articles”.

In a letter to the parties, which was provided to the court, Mr Scobie said the claim that he and his co-author Carolyn Durand had a copy of Meghan’s letter to Mr Markle was “not true”.

He said: “At no time were we provided with a copy of the letter, or the text of the letter, or any extracts from the texts of the letter.

“In fact, the first time we saw what the letter actually said was when we read the articles published by the Mail On Sunday in February 2019.”

The full trial of the duchess’s claim was due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a “confidential” reason.

The remote hearing before Mr Justice Warby will resume at 10am on Wednesday and it is expected he will reserve his judgment to a later date.

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