Meghan Markle’s father described a letter she wrote to him after her marriage to Prince Harry as the end of their relationship, according to a witness statement made public by a London court on Tuesday.
The Duchess of Sussex is currently suing Associated Newspapers Ltd over its publication of extracts of the August 2018 letter to Thomas Markle, claiming breach of privacy and copyright.
Her legal team are seeking to avoid a potential courtroom showdown between father and daughter, after previously securing a postponement of a full trial for unspecified confidential reasons.
Lawyer Justin Rushbrooke told the High Court that Associated, which publishes the Mail on Sunday weekly and MailOnline website, had no realistic chance of success at a full trial.
“We say that, actually, at its heart, it is a very straightforward case about the unlawful publication of a private letter,” he said at the remote hearing, which is set to last two days.
The publication was a “plain and serious breach of her rights to privacy”, he added.
– ‘Heartfelt plea’ –
Associated claims Meghan wrote the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point”, and “to defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”.
In his statement, Thomas Markle rejected the suggestion from one of Meghan’s oldest friends in the US magazine People that the letter was designed to repair their fractured relationship.
He said he needed to defend himself against accusations he was “dishonest, exploitative, publicity seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted”.
He described the letter as a “criticism of me”, said Meghan did not say she loved him, and failed to ask about his health, after he suffered a heart attack.
“It actually signalled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation,” he stated.
Associated maintains the series of articles based on the letter, published in February 2019, allowed Thomas Markle to set the record straight, and was in the public interest.
Meghan wanted to use the letter “as part of a media strategy”, and discussed it with royal communications officials before it was sent, it argued.
But Rushbrooke said there was no strategy nor had she cooperated with the authors of a favourable biography about her life with Harry, which also contained partial extracts of the letter.
Instead, it was a “heartfelt plea” to her father to stop speaking to the media, after he admitted being paid to stage paparazzi photographs before her wedding, which he did not attend.
“It simply doesn’t make sense for the claimant to put that sort of letter in the public domain. It would achieve the very opposite of what she’s trying to achieve,” he added.
Meghan, who sent the letter by courier to her father’s home in Mexico, had a reasonable expectation it would remain private, the lawyer told the court.
“We say there was no debate of general interest,” said Rushbrooke. “There was the rather sad intricacies of a family relationship, which is not a matter of public interest.
“It’s absolutely clear they (Associated) have failed to advance a viable case for justifying the intrusion into the claimant’s (privacy) rights.”
– ‘Titillating’ readers –
On copyright, Associated is claiming “fair-dealing” by publishing extracts of the letter but lawyer Ian Mill, also representing Meghan, said there was no need for a trial to disprove their argument.
He said the newspaper went way beyond what was considered reasonable, reproducing almost 50 percent of the letter’s content in 29 different extracts over five articles.
Instead of portraying what the news group claimed was her state of mind at the time of writing, he described the coverage, which included handwriting analysis, as a “character assassination”.
“It wasn’t about her state of mind when the letter was written but about her state of mind as a person… It’s about titillating the readership, to put in digs at the expense of my client,” he added.
Meghan and Harry, who quit frontline royal duties in March last year citing media intrusion, are waging an increasingly public war with some news outlets.
Harry — grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and son of heir to the throne Prince Charles and the late Diana, princess of Wales — has separately brought cases against two other British tabloid publishers for alleged phone hacking.
The couple now live with their young son Archie in the United States and have set up a charitable foundation.