Mail publisher Associated Newspapers has claimed Meghan Markle knew it was likely that her father would share her letter to him with the media in defending a privacy case brought by the Duchess of Sussex.
It claimed she expected the letter to be read by others and her “elaborate” handwriting over its five neat pages is proof that this is the case.
The duchess is suing the publisher over a story published on 10 February last year in the Mail on Sunday that revealed extracts from her missive to her estranged father Thomas Markle.
In the letter, sent in August last year shortly after Meghan’s marriage to Prince Harry, the former US actress expresses her heartbreak over the breakdown in her relationship with her father.
Mr Markle, a former Hollywood lighting director, told the Mail on Sunday at the time that he was “devastated” by the letter, which he said he thought would be an “olive branch” but was instead “a dagger to the heart”.
The newspaper has said it was given the letter by Mr Markle along with his own account on its content and his estrangement from his daughter.
The duchess claims the newspaper’s publication of the letter was “intrusive and unlawful”. She is suing Associated Newspapers for breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
In court papers issued last night the publisher set out its defence against the High Court action across 44 pages, seen by Press Gazette.
It claims the duchess “knew that her father had spoken to the media previously about their relationship and was continuing to do so”, a matter it said she complained about in her letter to him.
“She therefore knew that it was possible or even likely that he would disclose the contents of the letter to third parties or the media.”
It added: “It is to be inferred that the letter was written and sent by [Meghan] with a view to it being read by third parties and/or disclosed to the public,” or knowing that this was “very likely”.
Meghan’s letter was ‘immaculately copied out’
To support this claim, Associated Newspapers pointed to the “great care” the duchess had taken over writing the letter, saying it appeared to have been “immaculately copied out by [Meghan] in her own elaborate handwriting from a previous draft”.
An image of her handwriting taken from the letter was included in the story, which described it as “elegant script”.
The publisher said there are “no crossings-out or amendments” on the pages and that the care taken infers that “she anticipated it being disclosed to and read by third parties”.
It also said the tone and content of the letter is such that it shows Meghan’s “previous conduct in the best possible light” and makes “multiple self-congratulatory remarks”.
As such the publisher said Meghan Markle “could not have reasonably expected the letter to lead to a reconciliation between herself and her father” and it is therefore to be inferred that it was “written at least partly for the sake of the record”.
It went on: “[The letter] rehearses [Meghan’s] version of the history of her relationship with her father and her family in a way that strongly suggests [she] wanted or expected third parties to read it.”
The duchess is said to have kept a copy of the letter, which the Mail claims she did in order that “she could use it herself, including by disclosing its contents”.
The Mail on Sunday did not contact the duchess ahead of publishing the story revealing extracts from her letter.
In defending its coverage, Associated Newspapers said: “There is a huge and legitimate public interest in the royal family and the activities, conduct and standards of behaviour of its members.
“This extends not merely to their public conduct, but to their personal and family relationships because those are integral to the proper functioning of the monarchy.”
It said the public are “encouraged to and do take an interest in the royal family and its members as a family in a way which may exceed the interest that they would take in members of their own extended family”.
It added: “In a properly functioning democratic and constitutional monarchy, the fullest possible ambit of information, discussion and criticism as to the Crown and those who represent it is not only permissible but necessary.”
The publisher said members of the royal family rely on publicity in order to maintain the “privileged positions they hold” and the “fulfillment of their duties and functions” and support for good causes.
“This includes issuing public statements about developments in their family life as well as their official activities,” the publisher said.
It pointed to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex having authorised media to report on their official tour of southern Africa last year, including taking part in an ITV documentary about it.
It said that therefore Meghan is “a major public figure whose fitness to perform royal duties on behalf of the Crown and to be the recipient of public money is a proper matter for public scrutiny, and whose conduct, past and present, both in public and private, including her conduct in her relationships with her family and other people, is rightly of enormous public interest”.
It was during their tour of Africa that Meghan filed the lawsuit against Associated Newspapers. The same day Prince Harry issued a statement in which he warned that the letter’s publication was “one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behaviour by British tabloid media”.
Nearly 1m copies sold
Associated Newspapers said it sold some 900,000 copies (including digital editions) of the Mail on Sunday containing extracts from Meghan’s letter to her father, published on 10 February, and that three related articles published on Mail Online had together received about 1m unique visitors.
It claims the contents of Meghan’s letter “were not private or confidential, self-evidently or at all” and that the Suits star “did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy” in relation to it.
“Much of the information in the letter does not belong to or relate to [Meghan] but is information about her father and his dealings with the media,” Associated Newspapers claimed in legal papers.
Associated Newspapers said that “as a general principle, a recipient of a letter is not obliged to keep its existence or contents private” unless there are special circumstances agreed between its sender and recipient. It said Meghan had not asked her father to keep the letter private.
People interview with ‘close friends’
The Mail on Sunday story came days after an interview with five unnamed close friends of Meghan was published by People Magazine in the US, in which it was claimed her father had “never called” or texted her.
The friends, said to have been women from Meghan’s “inner circle”, first revealed that Meghan had sent her father a letter after her wedding and that he had written back asking her for a “photo op”.
Mr Markle subsequently told the Mail on Sunday that he felt the contents of the letter had been “falsely portrayed” and shared his correspondence with his daughter with the newspaper.
Associated Newspapers repeated Mr Markle’s claim in court papers and said its articles had “properly and accurately” covered “misleading” reporting of the dispute between him and his daughter and the contents of their letters.
It said: “The People interview depicted Mr Markle as having acted unreasonably and unlovingly, having cold-shouldered his daughter, and being solely to blame for the estrangement between father and daughter. This was a one-sided and/or misleading and false narrative.”
The Mail claims information contained in the People interview “could only have come (directly or indirectly) from the claimant” not least because it presented events “in a way favourable to her”.
It said Meghan has never denied that the sources for the People interview spoke so at her request or with her consent.
It said the interview was widely republished in media across the world, including on Mail Online. People has a readership of 40m people in the US alone while more than 11,000 people interacted with a Facebook post from the brand sharing the interview.
It added that, following the People interview and reports about it, “neither the existence nor the contents of the letter were confidential”.
“The letter was Mr Markle’s property, and he was entitled to give it to whomever he chose,” Associated Newspapers said.
“Mr Markle was also entitled publicly to correct the false and damaging (to him) information that had been given about his conduct in the People interview, and to have as much of the letter and its contents published as was necessary for that purpose.”
‘Meghan’s friend sought to influence reporting’
Separately, Associated Newspapers said it is aware that “on at least one other occasion” the Duchess of Sussex had “caused or permitted a close friend to seek to influence what is published about her in the media”.
It claimed her friend Jessica Mulroney contacted Meghan’s former business adviser Gina Nelthorpe-Crowne “putting pressure on her to withdraw or change statements she had made to the Mail on Sunday” about the duchess.
It said Nicholas Pyke, features editor at the Mail on Sunday, had written to Jason Knauf, communications secretary to Prince Harry, complaining about the intervention and that Knauf had responded by saying he “would endeavour to ensure that ‘this does not happen again'”.
The Mail is seeking disclosure of Meghan’s communications relating to Mulroney’s alleged intervention, and any other occasions in which the duchess has caused or permitted friends to provide information to the media about her or sought to influence what is published about her.
‘Not unfair’ to publish stories Meghan ‘does not like’
Associated Newspapers denies misusing private information and breaching copyright through its reporting of Meghan’s letter to her father.
It said use of Meghan’s personal data did not convey any “sensitive information” about her, but rather concerned topics she had “permitted to be put into the public domain”.
“It was therefore reasonable to assume that [Meghan] would not object to matters concerning her relationship with her father being published,” it said.
“[Meghan’s] real claim in this action is transparently not that [Associated Newspapers] has processed her personal data without consent, which all media publishers do on a regular basis, but that she does not like the effect of what [it] has published because she considers it to be unflattering.
“It is not unfair for [Associated Newspapers] to publish material about [Meghan], a member of the royal family, that she does not like.”
It said Meghan does not claim the personal data was inaccurate and said it believes publication of the contents of the letter “was and is in the public interest”.
It said it would have been “incompatible with the special purpose of journalism” to have required the Mail on Sunday to obtain Meghan’s consent to process her personal data involved in publishing articles responding to the “misleading” account of her relationship with her father.
On the matter of copyright, Associated Newspapers denied that Merghan’s letter is her “own intellectual creation” or an “original literary work”.
Although it still has a copy of the letter, Associated Newspapers said it has “no present intention” to make use of it in future articles.
The case is likely to result in a landmark privacy ruling, an area of the law which is increasingly being used to take on the press following singer Sir Cliff Richard’s High Court win against the BBC in 2018.
The royal couple announced last week that they were stepping back as “senior” royals and dividing their time between the UK and Canada. The Queen has since agreed their new roles.
Associated Newspapers publishes the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Mail Online and Metro titles. It is part of the Daily Mail and General Trust.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville