Timeline of Meghan’s legal case over letter to father

PA Reporters

Here is a timeline of the Duchess of Sussex’s legal action against the Mail on Sunday over its publication of a “private and confidential” letter to her estranged father Thomas Markle.

Former Suits actress Meghan is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over five articles, published in February 2019.

The duchess won her High Court privacy claim on Thursday, with Mr Justice Warby ruling that the publication of the letter was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.

But the duchess faces a trial over her copyright claim to determine whether she was the “sole author” of the letter.

– 2018

– May 12

A week before the wedding, Mr Markle speaks to Prince Harry on the phone, warning him that a story is about to break saying that he allegedly staged paparazzi photos for money.

In one shot, he is seen reading an online article about his daughter and Harry in an internet cafe, while in another he appears to be being measured for a suit.

Meghan and Harry
Meghan and Harry (Tim Ireland/PA)

– May 14

Mr Markle looks set to miss Harry and Meghan’s wedding, after the paparazzi photo saga and after suffering a heart attack.

Meghan appeals for “understanding and respect” for her father. He later issues a public statement through US website TMZ that he had gone to hospital because he had had a heart attack.

Mr Markle writes to Meghan, saying he is sorry and that he will not be attending the wedding to “spare her any further embarrassment”.

On the same day, Harry sends text messages to Mr Markle, urging him to respond to calls and saying that “going public” will only make the situation worse.

– May 15

In a text to her father, Meghan writes: “I’ve been reaching out to you all weekend but you’re not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts.

“Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don’t respond.”

– May 17

Meghan confirms her father will not be attending her wedding, saying he needs to focus on his health.

– May 19

Harry and Meghan marry at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Royal wedding
Harry and Meghan on their wedding day (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– August 27

The duchess writes a letter to her father, reportedly accusing him of breaking her heart “into a million pieces” by giving interviews to the press.

– November 25

Mr Markle texts the duchess, who is by now expecting a baby, saying: “I want to reach out to you or try to reach out to you one more time.

“You apparently have just written me off and now it’s telling me I guess for the rest of my life?”

Meghan later claims in court documents that she never received this text message.

– 2019

– February 6

US magazine People publishes an eight-page article entitled The Truth About Meghan featuring interview with five unnamed friends of Meghan, who spoke to the magazine to counter the “global bullying” directed at her.

One says said the duchess wrote a message to Mr Markle after her wedding, pleading with him to stop his public criticisms.

They say: “She’s like, ‘Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship’.”

– February 10

The Mail on Sunday publishes an article with the headline “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’”.

An article is also published on MailOnline.

– May 6

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is born.

Archie
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with their newborn son (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– October 1

Harry issues a strongly worded statement criticising the press for its coverage of his wife. It is announced that Meghan is taking legal action against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publisher of the Mail on Sunday, for the “intrusive and unlawful” publication of her letter to Mr Markle.

– October 5

Mr Markle claims that he did not intend to share the letter sent by his daughter, but felt pressured to do so after he was “mischaracterised” by an article in People magazine.

– October 11

Meghan’s particulars of claim are filed at the High Court, alleging that the Mail on Sunday published “a private and confidential letter” which detailed her “intimate thoughts and feelings about her father’s health and her relationship with him at that time”.

– October 21

Meghan reveals her struggles with royal life in an ITV documentary filmed during the duke and duchess’s trip to Africa.

– 2020

– January 8

The duke and duchess announce they intend to step back as senior royals, earn their own money and split their time between the UK and North America.

– January 14

ANL files its defence, claiming the duchess was more worried about the “unflattering” effect of the publication of letter extracts than any breach of her data protection rights.

Meghan “caused or permitted”, the legal paper claims, her close friend Jessica Mulroney to contact the duchess’s former commercial adviser who gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday, in a bid to ensure “a more favourable article was published”.

ANL says it will rely on evidence from Mr Markle, meaning that Meghan and her father may have to testify against each other at a trial.

– January 27

Mr Markle is interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and asks Harry to “man up” and meet him.

He describes the breakdown of his relationship with his daughter as “ridiculous” and calls for a reunion.

On the same day, he says he is willing to testify against her, telling The Sun: “I’ll see Meghan in court.”

– March 31

Megxit – Harry and Meghan cease to be senior working royals.

Harry and Meghan's final public engagement
Harry and Meghan’s final public engagement as senior working royals (Phil Harris/Daily Mirror/PA)

– April 20

Details of calls and texts by Harry and Meghan to Mr Markle in the days before their wedding are disclosed in court documents.

In their reply to the Mail on Sunday’s defence, Meghan’s lawyers say she first discovered her father was in hospital through his statement to TMZ.

On the same day, the Sussexes announce they have severed all dealings with Britain’s tabloid press, writing in a strongly worded letter to the editors of the Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Express that they will not “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of clickbait and distortion”.

– April 24

First High Court hearing in the legal action.

Mr Justice Warby hears an application by ANL to strike out parts of Meghan’s claim. The duke and duchess are understood to listen in to the part of the hearing conducted by her lawyers. The case is heard remotely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

– May 1

ANL wins the first High Court skirmish.

Mr Justice Warby strikes out parts of Meghan’s claim, including allegations that ANL acted “dishonestly” by leaving out certain passages of the letter.

The judge also strikes out allegations that the publisher deliberately “stirred up” issues between the duchess and her father, and that it had an “agenda” of publishing intrusive or offensive stories about her.

The judge says those allegations should not form part of Meghan’s case at this stage, because they were “irrelevant” to her claim.

– July 1

Meghan applies to the High Court to stop ANL naming the five friends who spoke anonymously about her to People magazine.

– July 29

Meghan’s claim returns to the High Court for another preliminary hearing. Mr Justice Warby hears two matters – one on costs, plus an application to prevent ANL from disclosing the names of the five people.

– August 5

Meghan wins her bid to keep the names secret, with Mr Justice Warby saying they will remain so “for the time being at least”.

– September 29

ANL is given permission to rely in its defence on an unauthorised biography of the Sussexes – Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.

ANL claims the duchess had “compromised” any expectation of privacy in relation to the letter by allowing details of her private life to be published in the book.

But Meghan’s lawyers say accusations the duke and duchess “collaborated” with the authors is a “conspiracy theory”.

– October 29

The full trial is adjourned until autumn 2021 for a confidential reason.

Mr Markle fears he may “die tomorrow” and he wants to get the case over with as quickly as possible, ANL’s lawyers say.

– November 18

Court documents disclose two senior members of the royal family advised Meghan to write the letter to her father.

The papers also show Meghan shared a draft – written on her iPhone – with Harry and Kensington Palace’s then communications secretary Jason Knauf.

Jason Knauf
Meghan shared a draft of her letter with Kensington Palace’s then communications secretary Jason Knauf (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

It is also confirmed that Meghan allowed an unnamed individual to speak to the authors of Finding Freedom to prevent “further misinformation”.

– November 25

Meghan reveals she had a miscarriage in the summer, writing in the New York Times: “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”

– 2021

– January 19

The duchess’s lawyers ask Mr Justice Warby to grant summary judgment in relation to her privacy and copyright claims, a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a trial.

Mr Markle said Meghan’s letter “signalled the end” of their relationship rather than being a message of peace.

– January 20

Former members of the Sussexes’ staff – dubbed the “Palace Four” – state they may have evidence on the creation of the letter, whether or not Meghan anticipated or wanted her letter to be made public and whether or not the duchess helped the authors of Finding Freedom.

They are former private secretary Samantha Cohen, and three former communications secretaries, Jason Knauf, Sara Latham and Christian Jones.

– February 11

The duchess wins her privacy claim, with Mr Justice Warby granting Meghan “summary judgment” in her claim for misuse of private information.

The judge also finds that the publication of the letter infringed the duchess’ copyright.

But he added that issues of whether Meghan was “the sole author” – or whether Mr Knauf was a “co-author” – should be determined at a trial.

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