The first hearing in the Duchess of Sussex’s legal action against a British newspaper over its publication of a “private and confidential” letter to her estranged father will go ahead next week.
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over an article which reproduced parts of the handwritten letter sent to Thomas Markle, 75, in August 2018.
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 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’.”
In one extract, the duchess wrote: “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces – not simply because you have manufactured such unnecessary and unwarranted pain, but by making the choice to not tell the truth as you are puppeteered in this. Something I will never understand.”
In court documents which outline details of the duchess’s claims, her solicitors say the letter was “obviously private correspondence” which detailed “her intimate thoughts and feelings about her father’s health and her relationship with him at that time”.
Her lawyers also allege that the newspaper “chose to deliberately omit or suppress” parts of the letter, which “intentionally distorted or manipulated” its meaning, and gave her no warning it was due to be published.
The court papers describe Meghan as “a well-known American actor, business entrepreneur, and women’s rights activist”.
The duchess is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers Ltd, the newspaper’s publisher and operator of the website, 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.
In defence documents filed with the court, lawyers for the publisher said: “It is denied that the publication of the words complained of constituted a misuse of the claimant’s private information, or a breach of the claimant’s GDPR rights, or an infringement of the claimant’s copyright in the letter, as alleged or at all.”
They added: “The contents of the letter were not private or confidential, self-evidently or at all.”
A preliminary hearing on Friday April 24, which will be conducted remotely, will deal with an application by Associated Newspapers to strike out parts of Meghan’s case ahead of a full trial of the issues, according to court documents obtained by the PA news agency.
The legal action was announced in October last year in a highly personal statement, in which the Duke of Sussex accused some newspapers of a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.
Referencing his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who was a tabloid newspaper staple and died in a Paris car crash while being pursued by paparazzi, Harry said: “Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one.
“Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person.
“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
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.”
The duke is also bringing legal action against the publishers of The Sun and The Mirror over alleged phone hacking.
Mr Markle 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.”