Meghan letter published to satisfy curiosity of readers, court hears

A letter from the Duchess of Sussex to her estranged father was published by the Mail on Sunday to satisfy the “curiosity” of its readers – which the newspaper had “deliberately generated”, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers representing Meghan told a hearing on Friday that the newspaper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, had, through a series of articles, “stirred up” the dispute between her and her father, Thomas Markle, 75.

The duchess is suing the publisher over five articles – two in the Mail on Sunday and three on MailOnline – which were published in February 2019 and reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her father in August 2018.

During a remote court hearing, David Sherborne, representing the duchess, claimed the publisher had “harassed” Mr Markle, adding that it had “finally manipulated this vulnerable man into giving interviews” which Mr Markle had later described as “lies and bullshit”.

Mr Sherborne accused the publisher of “stirring up” a dispute between Meghan and her father, and arguing it “caused the very dispute” that it says “justifies the publication of this letter”.

He added: “It is the defendant’s actions in stirring up, creating this dispute that they use as justification for publishing the contents of the letter.”

Mr Sherborne said the case is about privacy, adding that this is “not surprising” given that the publisher “disclosed to the whole world the detailed contents of a private letter of a daughter to her father”.

In written documents prepared for the hearing, Mr Sherborne said no consent was sought from the duchess in advance of the articles being published.

Duchess of Sussex court hearing
Duchess of Sussex court hearing

He claimed this was a “deliberate decision” taken by the publisher to avoid risk of her seeking to prevent publication and also to “secure the enormous ‘scoop’” with such a “highly sensational story”.

He said: “The fact that the letter contained her most personal thoughts … only serves to strengthen this.

“No consent was sought or obtained by the defendant before its contents were revealed to millions of its readers.

“There was no public interest served by the publication, which was neither presented as nor capable of contributing to a debate in democratic society relating to matters of legitimate public interest.

“Rather, it was disclosed with the sole and entirely gratuitous purpose of satisfying the curiosity of the defendant’s readership about the … private life of the claimant, a curiosity deliberately generated by the defendant.”

Mr Sherborne also said the publisher “deliberately misled the public by presenting a false picture of the letter”.

He said it did this by leaving out parts of it which “demonstrate the claimant’s care for her father and others, as well as her concern about the UK tabloid media exploiting her father, and the fact that she addresses untruths previously published by the defendant”.

Mr Sherborne added: “This picture would have painted a proper picture of the claimant’s concerns and the cause for the ‘dispute’ with her father, namely the defendant’s conduct.”

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers previously argued Meghan’s contention that her “vulnerable” father was “harassed and humiliated”, “manipulated” and “exploited” should not form part of her case.

Mr Sherborne also argued that a number of “intrusive and offensive” additional articles published by Associated Newspapers about the duchess should be taken into consideration in support of her privacy action, but not as part of the claim.

Mr Sherborne said: “It is very much about the claimant’s state of mind.”

He added that this was about “the distress she feels about the realisation that the defendant has an agenda and that this is not a one-off”.

“It’s all about distress, it’s not about damage to reputation.”

Mr Justice Warby, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice with the hearing attended remotely by lawyers and reporters, is being asked by the publisher’s legal team for parts of the duchess’s case to be “struck out”.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Royal Highlights
Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Royal Highlights

It is understood Harry and Meghan have listened online to the parts of the hearing conducted by her lawyers.

Sections of the letter were published in the newspaper and online in February last year, and it was announced the duchess would be bringing legal action in October.

The headline on the main 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’.

The duchess is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

Associated Newspapers wholly denies the allegations – particularly the claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning – and says it will hotly contest the case.

The legal action was announced in a highly personal statement, in which the Duke of Sussex accused some newspapers of a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.

In the statement, on the duke and duchess’s official website, Harry said of his wife: “I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in.”

Mr Markle, 75, has claimed he felt pressured to share the letter after its contents were misrepresented in a magazine article.

In an interview with the Mail On Sunday, he said: “I have to defend myself. I only released parts of the letter because other parts were so painful. The letter didn’t seem loving to me. I found it hurtful.”