Four former aides of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may have evidence which could ‘shed some light’ on Meghan’s letter to her estranged father, the High Court was told today.
Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, for breach of privacy for publishing extracts of a letter she sent her father Thomas Markle, 76, after her royal wedding in 2018.
Her lawyers have applied for summary judgment, a legal step which would see parts of the case resolved without a trial and without the need for witnesses, but the newspaper argues the case is ‘wholly unsuitable for summary judgment.’
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leave the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9 last year, on their final royal engagement before they quit royal life
Meghan is suing Associated Newspapers Limited for breach of privacy for publishing extracts of a letter she sent her father Thomas Markle (pictured) after her royal wedding in 2018
On the second day of the hearing today, the publisher’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.
The letter was sent to the parties on behalf of Jason Knauf – formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, whom the newspaper claims 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.
The letter was sent to the parties on behalf of Jason Knauf (left) – formerly communications secretary to the Sussexes, whom the newspaper claims was involved in the wording of Meghan’s letter – and Christian Jones (right), their former deputy communications secretary
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.’
The other two members of the so-called ‘Palace Four’ are Samantha Cohen (left), formerly the Sussexes’ private secretary, and Sara Latham (right), their former director of communications
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 three key areas which it lists as:
- the creation of the Letter and the Electronic Draft.
- whether or not the claimant anticipated that the Letter might come into in the public domain.
- whether or not the claimant 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.’
The court was told that another area that requires ‘factual investigation at trial’ is how Royal biography Finding Freedom, which tells the story of Meghan’s life and marriage to the Duke of Sussex, was written.
The newspaper claims she co-operated with its authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, or authorised her friends to and share details of the letter.
A court artist’s sketch of Ian Mill QC (top left), Justin Rushbrooke QC (top right) and judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom), at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday
Meghan has denied the allegations – as has Mr Scobie – but she has conceded in a court document submitted at a hearing last year that she did authorise a friend to speak with them on her behalf.
Mr White said: ‘What did the Claimant tell this unidentified person could be communicated to the authors about the letter in order to counter what she describes as her father’s narrative in the media?
‘That’s another matter that requires factual investigation at trial.’
The court was also told about a People magazine article from February 2019, which first revealed the letter and contained interviews with five of Meghan’s friends whose identities were not revealed.
If a full trial does take place, it is expected that all of them will give evidence and asked under oath about how the article came about.
Mr White told Mr Justice Warby: ‘The letter was sent by the Claimant (Meghan) with a view to being read by third parties or the public.’
The newspaper claims Meghan co-operated with the authors of Finding Freedom, Omid Scobie (above) and Carolyn Durand, or authorised her friends to and share details of the letter
He added: ‘The writing of the letter to be used as part of a media strategy, the extent to which she caused or permitted information about it to be passed to the authors (of Finding Freedom) and People magazine, cannot be brushed aside and requires full investigation at trial.’
On the first day of the hearing, Justin Rushbrooke, QC, representing Meghan, told Mr Justice Warby that the newspaper’s case had no prospect of success and that publication of the extracts had been a ‘triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights.’
He described the letter as ‘a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father’ and that she had no intention of making it public.
Mr Rushbrooke added: ‘It is as good an example as one could find of a letter that any person of ordinary sensibilities would not want to be disclosed to third parties, let alone in a mass media publication, in a sensational context and to serve the commercial purposes of the newspaper.’