by Robert Mendick
The Duchess of Sussex just wanted to protect her privacy.
Last autumn she declared she was suing a British newspaper over the publication of excerpts of a letter she had sent her father Thomas Markle, accusing him of breaking her heart “into a million pieces”. The bombshell announcement was made on the penultimate day of an (up to then anyway) successful Royal tour of southern Africa.
The Duchess must have hoped the threat of legal action would have brought a halt to what she perceived as the Mail on Sunday’s campaign against her.
But on Tuesday night, any chance of putting a lid on the rift with her father – and further adverse newspaper reports – appeared to have been blown sky high.
The defence document lodged yesterday in the High Court in London exposes in full their deteriorating relationship while accusing the Duchess of allegedly being – in part at least – an architect of her own breach of privacy. It suggests that when she wrote the letter to her father, she was aware it would likely end up in the public domain.
The letter’s existence only came to light six months after it was written when a US magazine, briefed by friends of the Duchess, made mention of it.
The 44-page defence submitted by Associated Newspapers, the owners of the Mail on Sunday, contains details of text messages and phone calls between the Duke and Duchess and Mr Markle both in the run-up to and in the aftermath of their wedding on May 19th 2018.
After days of largely excoriating criticism of the Duke and Duchess for wanting to quit as ‘senior’ Royals, the Mail on Sunday’s legal defence is probably the last thing they needed. The newspaper is refusing to back down and has seemingly signed up Mr Markle as its star witness. The court case, whenever it should take place, is likely to be the trial of the century with the Duchess pitted against her father in the witness box. It won’t be pretty and the loser will be facing a legal bill running into the millions.
The defence document is quick to point out that the Royal family are public figures supported “largely by public funds”. The security bill for their wedding, held in Windsor castle, says the legal defence by way of example, cost the taxpayer £30million. The Duchess, 38, enjoys the lifestyle of someone with ‘extreme wealth or elite connections’ flying to Ibiza, again by example, on a private jet, it claims.
At the heart of the case is the letter – given the capitalised significance The Letter in the court documents – sent by the Duchess to her father in August 2018, after the wedding he had missed.
Mr Markle, 75, insists he was too sick to travel after suffering a heart problem. But prior to the wedding, he had been caught out – ironically perhaps by the Mail on Sunday itself – arranging with a photographer staged photographs showing him preparing for the wedding. These were then sold to newspapers around the world and Mr Markle received his fee.
In the week before the wedding father and daughter had been on good terms, according to the defence document. On May 10, Mr Markle sent his daughter a text about “looking forward to trying on my [wedding] shoes” and ending it “Have a good night. I love you dad.”
But a day or two later they had an awkward phone conversation in which Mr Markle admitted to staging the photographs and that an article was about to appear.
On May 14, the defence document alleges, he wrote to the Duchess stating “that he loved her and that he would not be attending the wedding and that he was going to make a public apology to the Claimant and Prince Harry.”
He received a “text response from Prince Harry saying that he (Mr Markle) did not need to apologise and that he should call.”
But on the same day Mr Markle insists he “began to feel very ill with shortness of breath and chest pains” and went into hospital in California where he wad diagnosed with “suspected congestive heart failure”.
On May 16, according to the defence documents, Mr Markle “underwent an emergency heart procedure” and “on the same day he texted the Claimant to let her know that he had undergone surgery and would not be able to attend the wedding because his doctors would not allow him to fly, and said he was sorry for not being there”.
The defence alleges he later received a text response signed ‘Love M and H’, “but which read as if it was from Prince Harry… admonishing Mr Markle for talking to the press and telling him to stop and accusing Mr Markle of causing hurt to his daughter.”
The defence goes on: “The text did not ask how the surgical procedure had gone or how Mr Markle was or send him good wishes.”
Mr Markle, the Mail on Sunday alleges, was “deeply hurt and responded with a curt message: ‘I’ve done nothing to hurt you Meghan or anyone else.”
Mr Markle received no further messages from his daughter, according to the legal document, until being sent the letter in August 2018, some months after the wedding.
Excerpts from the letter were published in the Mail on Sunday on 10 February 2019, six months after it was sent, under the headline: “Revealed: The letter showing the true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”
The letter’s existence had been first made public four days earlier in an article published in People, a US magazine, which claimed that five of the Duchess’s closest friends wanted to set “the record straight”.
A “longtime friend” had told People magazine that even up to the night before the wedding the Duchess was trying to contact her father, sending him a message “Please pick up. I love you, and I’m scared.”
One headline in People magazine online stated: “The Truth About Meghan Markle’s dad – and the Letter She Wrote Him After the Wedding.”
In its legal submission, Associated Newspapers alleges that the People magazine account had “depicted Mr Markle as having acted unreasonably and unlovingly, having cold-shouldered his daughter and being solely to blame for the estrangement”.
The newspaper adds: “This was a one-sided and or/misleading and false narrative.”
The defence submission adds: “The Claimant’s privacy rights do not extend to silencing her father.”
In its legal defence submitted to the High Court, the Mail on Sunday argues that the “letter was written and sent by the Claimant [Duchess of Sussex] with a view to it being read by third parties and/ or disclosed to the public, alternatively knowing that the same was very likely”.
The defence submission states: “The Letter does not appear to contain the Claimant’s deepest and most private thoughts but to be an admonishment by the Claimant of her father for failing to behave as she would have wished.
“Amongst other things, she accused him of breaking her heart, manufacturing pain, being paranoid, being ridiculed, fabricating stories, of attacking Prince Harry, and continually lying.”
The newspaper alleges that the Duchess had taken “great care over its presentation” adding: “The Letter appears to have been immaculately copied out by the Claimant in her own elaborate handwriting from a previous draft. There are no crossings-out or amendments as there usually are with a spontaneous draft. It is to be inferred also from the care the Claimant took over the presentation of the letter that she anticipated it being disclosed to and read by third parties.”
The defence claim goes on: “It [the Letter] rehearses the Claimant’s version of the history of her relationship with her father and her family in a way that strongly suggests the Claimant wanted or expected third parties to read it.”
The legal documents adds: “Except for receipt of the letter, Mr Markle has not heard from his daughter since he wrote to tell her he was too ill to attend her wedding, nor has he ever been introduced to or met Prince Harry or their son, his grandson.”
Associated Newspapers says that the Duchess had not “complained to People magazine… about the publication of any of the information in the People interview, either on the grounds that it contains private information published without her consent or that it is inaccurate.”
The newspaper insists the letter sent to Mr Markle was his property and “he was entitled to give it to whomever he chose”. It also argues that Mr Markle had the right to publish his “account of events” in the wake of the People magazine article.
The publishers also claim that Kensington Palace has “refused to comment on whether the sources for the People interview had given the interview or co-operated at the request of the Claimant, or with her consent, express or tacit.” It adds: “The Claimant herself has not at any time denied this fact.”
Associated Newspaper goes further in its defence document, alleging that on another occasion in April 2018, the Duchess enlisted a ‘close friend of hers, Jessica Mulroney, to intervene” after another friend Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, a former commercial adviser, had given an interview to the Mail on Sunday. After the interview – but before it was published – the newspaper approached Jason Knauf, the Duke of Sussex’s then communications secretary, notifying him of the interview’s contents.
Associated newspapers, in its legal defence, then alleges that on the same day the Duchess contacted Ms Mulroney “to try to ensure that a more favourable article was published”. Ms Mulroney, the newspaper alleges, wrote to Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne requesting she withdraw or change the statements she had given.
Source The Telegraph.