- MEGHAN MARKLE has filed a strong response to the Mail on Sunday’s Defence to publishing a private letter she wrote to her dad
- THE DUCHESS of Sussex is accusing publisher Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) of misusing her private information, breach of Data Protection Rights and infringement of copyright
- LAWYERS NOW reveal text messages to Thomas Markle from the Duchess, and her husband Prince Harry, show she DID contact him following his heart attack before the Royal Wedding
- THEY CAST doubt on whether Mr Markle was the actual author of one message ANL ascribes to him
- PRINCE HARRY implored Mr Markle not to go “public” and speak to the media as it would “backfire”, while the couple reassured him and offered help with security
- MR MARKLE was allegedly not going to attend the wedding in any event amid embarrassment of media coverage on him, since when:
- ANL HAS allegedly sought to “attack and intimidate” the Duchess in its legal Defence and in print
THE Duchess of Sussex has taken a wrecking ball to the Mail on Sunday’s Defence in her unprecedented legal action over the controversial tabloid’s publication of a private letter she sent her father Thomas Markle.
The 33-page document pushes back strongly to the newspaper’s publisher’s own 44-page case which seeks to justify allegations of misuse of the Duchess’s private information, breach of Data Protection Rights and infringement of copyright.
Byline Investigates was the first this morning to break the story of the latest legal filings in the case. Now we can reveal more detail about the Duchess’s lawsuit and its deep negative effect on her family.
The Duchess’s legal deposition, lodged Friday at the High Court in London, accuses Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) of trying to “attack and intimidate” her in “the Defence and in print”, adding to the distress of it publishing a “deeply private communication” described by ANL itself as “a moving letter to her estranged father”.
Her action is seen as bold, and a break from the establishment, as the Royal family is traditionally reluctant to fight back against press intrusion. Commentators have warned Ms Markle’s legal action against the Mail on Sunday risks revenge from Britain’s infamously powerful billionaire-owned press lobby.
ANL is accused of publishing the article for its own “self-serving commercial interest” rather than, as the company claims, to “set the record straight” on behalf of Thomas Markle over a letter she wrote him after he posed for paparazzi photographs.
The Duchess in her deposition describes Mr Markle as a “vulnerable” man “harassed and humiliated” by ANL’s media outlets in a string of stories, adding: “It is the Defendant’s (unlawful) actions that give rise to the Claimant’s claim, and not her father’s conduct.”
She goes on to say the true reason for Mr Markle’s refusal to attend the wedding on May 19, 2019, was the result of him “being so publicly shamed by the Defendant” for having staged paparazzo photographs, and that this was the case even before he started having heart problems in the week before the ceremony.
Mr Markle himself – who ANL is calling as a witness in the case – described one of its journalists as writing an interview with him containing “lies and bullshit”. ANL is also accused of being the cause of the “dispute” between Mr Markle and his daughter.
In the document, the Duchess refers to details of a series of text messages she and Prince Harry sent to Thomas Markle that counter claims they did not enquire about his health and wellbeing following heart problems before their wedding on May 19, 2019.
Among them are some written from the Prince in which he offers his future father-in-law help and also urges Mr Markle to beware speaking to the Press as it would “backfire”.
Other messages show the Duchess was worried about Mr Markle’s health, pleaded with him to contact her, asked where he was in hospital, and offering him a security detail, which he declined.
The Mail on Sunday and ANL are basing their justification for running parts of the letter – which it wrongly claimed it was presenting “in full” – on the content of an interview with a friend of the Duchess’s published in US magazine People on February 18, 2019.
The article makes references to the letter she wrote to Thomas Markle five months earlier and therefore, ANL says, the Duchess must have been the real driving force behind the piece.
The Duchess had written the private letter in question after Mr Markle posed for paparrazo pictures in an apparent effort to curb a trend of being victim of snatched and unflattering photos appearing in the media, having had reporters camp outside his home for prolonged periods.
The Duchess is expressly denying any prior knowledge of the People interview – and says the references it makes to the content and intentions of the letter were wrong. Her lawyers point out that that had she been involved in the story, the references would have been accurate.
The Duchess says she only later found out her friends had acted of their own accord as they were “extremely concerned at the aggressive attacks” as the Duchess was “vulnerable as well as heavily pregnant” with son Archie at the time.
The document says: “As she later discovered, following visits to see her in London at the beginning of 2019, some of her close circle of friends became extremely concerned at the aggressive attacks upon her in the media and the palpable and profound impact which this was having upon her, especially as she was vulnerable as well as heavily pregnant at the time.
“As a result, one of her closest friends decided that they should help by arranging to give anonymous interviews to this American magazine whose Editor was a very good friend of hers in which they might explain what the Claimant was truly like (as opposed to the tabloid portrayal of her).”
The document adds: “In particular, the Claimant had no knowledge that her friends would make any reference to the Letter or its contents, the intention of sending it, or the response that her father sent, nor would she ever have agreed to this being done had she been made so aware.”
In its Defence the Mail on Sunday characterises text messages from Harry and Meghan to Thomas as being uncaring and self-serving.
But the Duchess says it “intentionally” omitted any references to the Royal couple’s attempts to protect Mr Markle and ensure his safety in a “highly partial” and “tendentious” summary of her text messages to her father.
To counter the Defence allegations, the Duchess has taken the step of revealing the full contents of a key period of text exchanges with Mr Markle.
In one series, sent May 14, 2018, Harry, using his wife’s phone, urges Mr Markle to beware getting in to bed with the Press, which – he says – “created this whole situation”.
The Prince wrote: “Tom, it’s Harry and I’m going to call you right now. Please pick up, thank you.”
It was followed by another message saying: “Tom, Harry again! Really need to speak to u. U do not need to apologize, we understand the circumstances but ‘going public’ will only make the situation worse.”
Harry’s message went on: “If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don’t involve u having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation.
“So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to u. Thanks.”
He added: “Oh any speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u, as we have been trying from day 1”.
The legal document explains that instead of speaking to his daughter, Mr Markle issued a public statement through US gossip website TMZ that he had gone to hospital because he had suffered a heart attack, and that was the first she knew of his condition.
The next day – May 15 2018 – Ms Markle wrote to Mr Markle, in a message ANL described in its Defence as “merely” asking him to call her.
In fact, the message, according to the Duchess’s papers, went much further.
It read: “I’ve been reaching out to you all weekend but you’re not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts… Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don’t respond…Do you need help? Can we send the security team down again? I’m very sorry to hear you’re in the hospital but need you to please get in touch with us… What hospital are you at?”
Another message from the Duchess, sent around 10 minutes later, said Mr Markle’s health was her primary concern, and offered him the protection of a security team.
Meghan wrote: “Harry and I made a decision earlier today and are dispatching the same security guys you turned away this weekend to be a presence on the ground to make sure you’re safe… they will be there at your disposal as soon as you need them. Please please call as soon as you can.. all of this is incredibly concerning but your health is most important”.
Mr Markle, the filing reveals, responded by saying he was okay, would be in hospital “for a few days”, and refusing the offer of security, prompting pleas from his daughter to let them help, with Harry sending on details of the security team in another message, sent from her phone.
Mr Markle responded in the evening of May 15, saying he appreciated the offer but did not feel in danger and would instead recover at a motel, the Claimant responded 10 minutes later to make a further request for the hospital details so that she would know where he was.
The Duchess’s lawyers go on to suggest that an emotive message attributed to Mr Markle – and which informed various articles attacking the Royal couple, including one particularly strident assault by Mail on Sunday columnist Piers Morgan in a Daily Mail piece – may not in fact have been written by Mr Markle.
Indeed, the message from Mr Markle was so suspicious – the filing says it may have been someone pretending to be him – that Prince Harry responded to it saying: “Tom, it’s Harry, please answer your phone. I need to know this is actually you because it doesn’t sound like you at all”. The document says no response was received.
The Duchess also denies ANL’s claim Mr Markle had tried to contact his daughter after her wedding on various occasions by phone and text, including one on November 25, 2018, allegedly saying: “I want to reach out to you or try to reach out to you one more time. You apparently have just written me off and now it’s telling me I guess for the rest of my life?”.
Instead, the Duchess says she had one missed call at 4.57am on 19 May 2018 (the morning of her wedding), but no further text messages or missed calls from Mr Markle at any point afterwards, including the one ANL alleges was sent on message on November 25.
The ANL Defence is largely built on whether or not the Duchess was involved in an article of February 2019 in US magazine People, which cited five unnamed friends of hers criticising her treatment in the media, which was described as “global bullying”.
The filing accepts that interviewees made a “passing reference” to the letter Meghan had written to Thomas – but not that it in any way supports ANL’s claim it meant she intended their private correspondence to be published.
In its official Defence, the Mail on Sunday argues the Duchess’s right to privacy in her communications and family life under the Human Rights Act 1988 should not apply, in part because she is wealthy and a member of the British Royal family.
Publisher ANL also say letters should not to be regarded as private unless they contain “the author’s deepest or most personal feelings” – despite itself casting the disputed letter as: “Meghan pours out her heart in moving letter to estranged father”.
Further, ANL insists, the Duchess could have no “reasonable expectation” to privacy because she didn’t expressly ask her father not to publicise the letter, and because she wrote it neatly by hand without spelling mistakes which, the publisher suggests, meant it must have been intended for the world at large to read.
ANL goes on to claim a legitimate interest in reproducing Ms Markle’s letter because its existence had been mentioned in passing by friends of hers during a “lengthy” interview with US magazine, People; an interview the Duchess says she “did not know” had been given, and which was not “accurate” about the letter.
The document reads: “The truth is that the author did not know that such an interview had been given or, more importantly, that any reference would be made to the letter (or the response to it), nor was the reference an accurate one, as it plainly would have been if it had been authorised or procured by her (which it was emphatically not).”
In trying to justify publication, ANL claimed it was trying to “set the record straight” on behalf of Thomas Markle – as opposed to “self-serving commercial interest”, as the Duchess alleges.
Her legal filing says the UK publisher was in fact the cause of any “dispute” with “vulnerable” Thomas Markle as it had, having first “harassed and humiliated” him in degrading articles and manipulated him into giving interviews, one of which he later described as “lies and bullshit”.
The result of the dispute was, the Duchess’s lawyers say, was substantial damage to his relationship with his daughter.”
ANL claims it did not seek comment or approval from the Duchess ahead of publication – as is generally regarded as good journalistic practice – of the letter as it believed its words were “lawful” and its reporting too “objective” to risk anything that might “seriously interfere” with that.
But the Duchess’s lawyers say the real reason ANL did not seek a comment or consent to reproduce the letter or even give notification of its story was because it “knew perfectly well that it would not have been granted consent” and “it rightly feared that the Claimant would take action to prevent this obvious misuse of private information, breach of her Data Protection Rights and infringement of copyright.”
ANL is seeking to claim the Duchess’s letter did not amount to a private communication that would enjoy protection under Britain’s Human Rights Act. In addition, ANL claims the Duchess’s right to privacy is undermined by her position as a member of the British Royal family, and her financial situation.
However, the Duchess’s legal team wrote: “It is unarguable that the Letter was plainly private both in terms of its contents (as it contained the Claimant’s deepest and most personal thoughts about her relationship with her father) and the method in which these thoughts were communicated, regardless of how neatly they were presented or the fact that a copy of the communication was retained by her.
“Further, the Claimant’s right to privacy is neither proportionate to, nor dictated by, the (perceived) amount of money or privilege she has, nor can it be as a matter of law.”
On her letter, The Duchess admits she feared its contents might be “intercepted or stolen by a third party”, as at the time Mr Markle’s home in Rosarito, Mexico, was besieged by journalists.
However, that is not the same as, “nor could it possibly amount to”, a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would be published in a newspaper, the filing states.
Of the neatness of her writing, the document goes on: “This was the Claimant’s usual style of handwriting, as she had trained in calligraphy since she was at school and practiced it professionally to support her early acting career, as had been widely reported including by the Defendant in an article published in the Mail Online on 26 November 2018.”
The filing cites Thomas Markle’s own version of events, contained in correspondence to his daughter, surrounding an interview that he was “manipulated” into giving to MailOnline by its journalist Peter Sheridan.
It states: “Mr Markle refers to the behaviour of the Defendant’s journalists, and in particular, Peter Sheridan who manipulated him into speaking to the Mail Online, a conversation which was then presented in an article on 28 July 2018 as an interview of “almost nine hours” and as a full-scale attack upon the Claimant.
“As Mr Markle states in this letter (thereby contradicting a number of false assertions in the Defence, as the Defendant is well aware):
“The next day [Peter Sheridan] announced and bragged that he got a 9 hour interview. He said a few things I said in confidence, but 85% were lies and bullshit! I called him and told him he was a thief, a liar and a coward and I would GET EVEN!
“I didn’t want or intend to give him an interview and I certainly would not do 9 hours for free!…
“When I was asked if I tried to borrow money from you, three days before the wedding? I said, “no I did not, but I know she would have helped me if I would have asked.” I made a comment about Tom Jr [his son] not paying me back, “not one red cent”, and they changed it to Meghan’s dad complaining that his kids won’t pay him back one red cent!! That comment came from Peter Sheridan’s 9 hour interview….
“I never said anything about your grandma, never!! I know you took care of her, I don’t know where that comes from? I appreciate that you have always been concerned for my health and you were trying to get me help.”
The document continues to criticise ANL’s contradictory coverage of Mr Markle.
It reads: “The Defendant deliberately manipulated and exploited a vulnerable and fragile individual (as it was well aware), having previously published highly damaging and distressing stories about Mr Markle, exposing him to the world at large as a ‘Royal Wedding scammer’ for having agreed to pose for ‘fake’ photographs and then suggesting in its reporting that his ‘heart attack’ was also fake (apparently contrary to the Defendant’s position in this litigation), thereby creating the “dispute” which it (falsely) claims gave rise to the legitimate reason to publish the detailed contents of the Letter.”
The document adds that Mr Markle initially did not tell “the truth” about his paparazzo agreement ahead of the wedding, but that despite this the Duchess was still focused on finding a way for him to travel to London safely and reassuring him there was no ill feeling between them, even though he asked for her to pose with him for a “photo for the whole world to see”.
On the issue of breaching the Duchess’s copyright in relation to her letter, ANL is relying on a legal provision of “fair dealing for the purposes of reporting current events” – claims the Duchess’s lawyers rubbish.
They deny her private relationship with Mr Markle – about whom she had not spoken since 2014, prior to meeting Prince Harry – were a “current event that formed a legitimate subject of news reporting”, or that the use of the detailed contents of the letter for that purpose was “fair”.
Associated Newspapers Ltd is seeking to have parts of the Duchess’s claim “struck out” at an interim hearing in the case, scheduled to be held “virtually” on Friday from the High Court in London as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prince Harry is separately bringing a case against the parent companies of the Sun and the Mirror for alleged historical phone-hacking offences, as exclusively revealed by this website last October.
The case continues…