‘Palace Four’ may be able to shed light on Meghan’s letter to father, court told

Four former employees of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may have evidence which could “shed some light” on Meghan’s handwritten letter to her estranged father, the High Court has been told.

Meghan, 39, is suing the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over five articles in February 2019 which reproduced “extensive extracts” from the handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Thomas Markle.

The duchess sent the “heartfelt” five-page letter to her father’s home in Mexico “via a trusted contact” in August 2018 in order to “minimise the risk of interception”, the High Court has previously heard.

Meghan’s lawyers say the publication of the letter was “self-evidently … highly intrusive”, describing it as “a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights”.

Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) claims Meghan wrote the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” in order to “defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”, which she denies.

Meghan is seeking damages from ANL for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act, and says ANL has “no prospect” of defending her privacy and copyright claims.

Her lawyers have applied for “summary judgment”, a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a trial, but ANL argues the case is “wholly unsuitable for summary judgment”.

On the second day of the hearing on Wednesday, ANL’s barrister Antony White QC told the court that a letter from lawyers representing the so-called “Palace Four” said they would be able to “shed some light” on the drafting of Meghan’s letter to her father.

He told the court it was also “likely” there was further evidence about whether Meghan “directly or indirectly provided private information” to the authors of an unauthorised biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Finding Freedom.

Duchess of Sussex court case
Duchess of Sussex court case

The letter was sent to the parties on behalf of Jason Knauf – formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, whom ANL “believes was involved” in the wording of Meghan’s letter – and Christian Jones, their former deputy communications secretary.

The other two members of the so-called “Palace Four” are Samantha Cohen, formerly the Sussexes’ private secretary, and Sara Latham, their former director of communications.

In the letter sent on their behalf, their lawyers said: “None of our clients welcomes his or her potential involvement in this litigation, which has arisen purely as a result of the performance of his or her duties in their respective jobs at the material time.

“This is particularly the case given the sensitivity of, and therefore discretion required in, their particular roles in the Royal Household.”

It added: “Nor does any of our clients wish to take sides in the dispute between your respective clients. Our clients are all strictly neutral.

“They have no interest in assisting either party to the proceedings. Their only interest is in ensuring a level playing field, insofar as any evidence they may be able to give is concerned.”

Duchess of Sussex
Duchess of Sussex

The letter continued that their lawyers’ “preliminary view is that one or more of our clients would be in a position to shed some light” on “the creation of the letter and the electronic draft”.

It also said they may be able to shed light on “whether or not the claimant anticipated that the letter might come into in the public domain” and whether or not Meghan “directly or indirectly provided private information, generally and in relation to the letter specifically, to the authors of Finding Freedom”.

Mr White said that letter showed that “further oral evidence and documentary evidence is likely to be available at trial which would shed light on certain key factual issues in this case”.

He added that the summary judgment application should be dismissed because “the evidential picture at trial is likely to be very different from the one presently before the court”.

However, Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the duchess, said in written submissions that the letter from the Palace Four “contains no information at all that supports the defendant’s case on alleged co-authorship (of Meghan’s letter), and no indication that evidence will be forthcoming that will support the defendant’s case should the matter proceed to trial”.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Duke and Duchess of Sussex

Mr Rushbrooke added: “The only information that has been provided is that one or more of the Palace Four could ‘shed some light’ on the creation of the letter and the electronic draft.

“The court is not told what that light might be. This is far from information that will support the defendant’s case.

“It is equally consistent with the Palace Four supporting the claimant’s case by confirming that none of them had any involvement in the creation of the letter or the electronic draft and/or that Jason Knauf provided feedback on a draft of the electronic draft but no actual wording.”

The full trial of the duchess’s claim was due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a “confidential” reason.

The remote hearing before Mr Justice Warby is due to conclude on Wednesday afternoon and it is expected he will reserve his judgment.