By Brian Cathcart
THE OWNERS of the Mail on Sunday have finally capitulated in the privacy and breach of copyright case brought by the Duchess of Sussex, abandoning any idea of a further appeal and agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum in settlement.
Following an order issued by the Court of Appeal which (among other things) required the publication of the front-page admission of defeat that appeared in the newspaper on Sunday, all that remains to be settled is the amount to be paid to the Duchess to reimburse her for her legal costs.
This brings to an end a legal process triggered nearly three years ago when the Mail on Sunday published large extracts from a personal letter she had written to her father. She sued and won in the High Court, prompting the Mail to appeal, and that appeal was dismissed earlier this month.
The newspaper company complained bitterly about its repeated humiliations in the courts and hinted it might appeal yet again to the Supreme Court, but we now know that it has thrown in the towel.
The order issued by the Court of Appeal on 14 December states that the Mail’s owners, Associated Newspapers, will pay the Duchess an undisclosed sum in settlement of her vindicated claim for breach of copyright. It will also pay her nominal damages of £1 for breach of privacy.
Associated will also shoulder most of the Duchess’s legal costs in the case, a sum still to be determined but likely to exceed £1.5 million. It was ordered to make a payment on account of £300,000 in addition to a payment already made of £450,000.
While the amount of the damages remains unknown and the costs, coming on top of the Mail’s own legal bills, are very high, the simple truth is that no sum of money will make much of a dent in finances of an organisation ultimately owned by the billionaire Lord Rothermere.
The price the Mail pays is in public humiliation, a humiliation completed at the weekend with the forced publication of that front-page statement and a supplementary statement on page 3, both confirming the Duchess’s victory in terms laid down by the courts.
It was characteristic of the paper that it made no editorial comment on these statements and has yet to apologise to the Duchess.
Now it is over, the case of the Duchess of Sussex v Associated Newspapers Limited must stand as a monument to the newspaper group’s extraordinary capacity to deny reality.
Most students of law or journalism could have told the editor of the Mail on Sunday that, in publishing large parts of an obviously personal letter from a daughter to her father, he was breaching her rights in ways he could not hope to justify. He too must have known this, and the only viable explanation for his action is that he assumed she would not sue.
He assumed wrongly. She not only sued but really went for the paper – a paper that had lied about her and smeared her for years. And Associated, again blind to reality, decided to fight the case.
It had no chance of victory, so instead it created a fantasy narrative which was relentlessly peddled through the Mail on Sunday and its sister publications the Daily Mail and Mail Online, a narrative friendly papers were only too happy to repeat.
In this false narrative the Duchess’s credibility was the issue and every development was reported through that prism. In the real world, however, judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal made very short work (by English legal standards) of Associated’s inevitably feeble attempts to justify what it had done.
And now we have the outcome: the Duchess vindicated – even on the front page of the Mail on Sunday – and the newspaper group probably out of pocket to the tune of a couple of million pounds.
They still hate her. No doubt they hate her even more than before. But they have been exposed to the world for the lawless, lying bullies they are, and even allowing for Lord Rothermere’s vast wealth they will certainly hesitate before breaching her rights again.