The Duchess of Sussex’s lawyers have denied she “collaborated” with the authors of a recent book about her and the Duke of Sussex at the latest hearing of her High Court action against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers (ANL) over its publication of a “private and confidential” letter sent to her estranged father Thomas Markle in August 2018.
The Duchess, 39, claims the February 2019 publication of parts of the handwritten letter to Mr Markle, 76, was a misuse of her private information and breached the Data Protection Act.
At the latest preliminary hearing in London on Monday, ANL sought permission to amend its written defence to Meghan’s claim to argue she “co-operated with the authors of the recently published book ‘Finding Freedom’ to put out their version of certain events”.
But Meghan’s lawyers argued that references in the book by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, which was published in August, were simply “extracts from the letter lifted from the defendant’s own articles”.
In written submissions, Justin Rushbrooke QC said: “The claimant and her husband did not collaborate with the authors on the book, nor were they interviewed for it, nor did they provide photographs to the authors for the book.”
He added that neither Meghan nor Harry to spoke to Scobie or Durand, who he said “were not given the impression that the claimant wanted the contents of the letter to be reproduced in the book”.
Antony White QC, representing ANL, said in written submissions that Finding Freedom gave “every appearance of having been written with their extensive co-operation”.
He added that ANL wished to amend its defence to allege that Meghan “caused or permitted information to be provided directly or indirectly to, and co-operated with, the authors of [Finding Freedom], including by giving or permitting them to be given information about the letter”.
White said in written submissions: “The book sets out in great detail the claimant’s feelings on a variety of personal matters, relationships and events, and attributes multiple quotes to her about her feelings.”
He added: “It also sets out in great detail accounts of events at which it is reasonable to infer that only the claimant and her husband, and/or possibly a third party who would not have spoken to the authors (eg the Queen), were present.”
White told the court that “there are only three possible ways to account for the inclusion of this information in the book”.
He argued that either Meghan “gave or allowed others to give this information to the authors”, that she gave the information to her friends in confidence who provided it to the authors “despite her wishes”, or “the information is the product of invention by the authors and/or the authors’ sources”.
White said that, if the information was invented by the authors or their sources, “it is inevitable that the claimant would have complained to and most likely issued legal proceedings against the authors”.
The barrister added that Scobie had provided a witness statement to the court, which he said “seems to confirm that people working on behalf of the claimant co-operated with the authors and gave them the names of people close to the claimant who would help, and that the authors spoke to such people and received information from them”.
The High Court later heard that Meghan discussed the letter to her father with the Kensington Palace communications team before she sent it because she wanted to use it “as part of a media strategy”.
ANL argued that Meghan wrote the letter to Mr Markle “with a view to it being read by third parties and/or disclosed to the public, or knowing that this was very likely”.
Alexandra Marzec, representing ANL, told the court the duchess “was using her friends as, effectively, PR agents” to “influence the media” in the months before the letter was sent in 2018.
Marzec said Meghan had spoken to her friend Jessica Mulroney and asked her “to intervene to attempt to influence” what her former commercial adviser Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne said to the press.
The court also heard that the total legal costs of both sides are estimated to be around £3m, up to and including the trial.
In documents before the court, Jessie Bowhill – who also represents the Duchess – said: “The overall total costs figures are £1,798,043.57 for the claimant and £1,230,425 for the defendant.”
She added: “At the broad brush level, £1.8m is a reasonable and proportionate amount for a seven to 10-day trial in the High Court in a case concerning private information, personal data and intellectual property rights of a high-profile individual.”
Last month, the Duchess won the most recent tussle in the legal action after Mr Justice Warby ruled in her favour to protect the identities of five friends who gave an anonymous interview to a US magazine.
Meghan is suing ANL over five articles in total, two in the Mail on Sunday and three on Mail Online, which were published in February 2019.
The headline of the first Mail on Sunday article read: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”
Monday’s hearing before Judge Francesca Kaye will also deal with applications for further disclosure and directions towards a trial, which is due to begin in January.
It is not clear if the judge will give a ruling on ANL’s application to amend its defence on Monday, or reserve it to a later date.
Picture: Chris Jackson/PA Wire
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